June 2013 Notebook
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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:


  • Sandra Coliver: US Prosecution of Snowden and Manning Exceeds International Norms:

    In the United Kingdom, the United States' closest military and intelligence ally, the maximum penalty for public disclosure of intelligence or security information is two years. Since Britain's Official Secrets Act (OSA) of 1989 entered into force, 10 public servants with authorized access to confidential information have been prosecuted under the act.

    Of those, the longest sentence -- one year in prison -- was served by Steven Hayden, a navy petty officer who pled guilty to selling security and intelligence information to the Sun tabloid concerning a plot by Saddam Hussein to launch anthrax attacks in the UK. In the US, that offence would be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, the same law being used to prosecute Bradley Manning, which brings a possible life sentence.

    A survey of the laws and practices of 20 European countries found that in at least 13 countries things are even more relaxed: a disclosure of classified information to the public would not result in any penalty in the absence of a showing of harm. Ten countries -- Albania, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, and Sweden -- require the government to prove either actual or probable harm in order for any penalty to be imposed. An additional three countries -- Denmark, France and Hungary -- allow the lack of harm to be raised as a defense or mitigating circumstance.

    A couple weeks ago I wrote a peace plan post about Israel where I noted that there should be an internationally recognized Right to Exile -- sort of a "get out of jail" card for people who are locked up or persecuted in one country for acts that other countries don't consider to be crimes at all. I've never written this up in detail, but I recognize that one might need to make an espionage exception, otherwise such a right could be an incentive for nations to recruit people to commit crimes by promising them asylum abroad if/when they get caught. Snowden, however, doesn't qualify as a spy -- even though that's what the US has charged him as -- because all he's done has been to make secrets public (there's no evidence that he's acted as an agent for a foreign government). Normally Americans would be sympathetic to a Right of Exile because they'd assume that it only applied to people we relate to, like pro-democracy dissenters in China and Iran. But the US has its own share of political prisoners, an increasing number -- something perhaps related to the fact that the US leads the world in incarcerating its citizens. So one thing the whole Snowden affair does is to make it less likely that the US would support an international Right to Exile.

    The other thing that should be clear from the Snowden affair is that the US government is increasingly looking at it as an affront to our superpowerdom: that we can't possibly let Snowden get away with this not just because it sets a bad example for other future whistleblowers but because it shows that US power isn't omnipotent. This, again, builds on past practices: when we want our man, we've shown time and again that we won't let borders or laws stop us. We have kidnapped suspects and rendered them to be tortured. We have sent armed drones out to hunt them down and kill bystanders. We have sent SEAL teams out to assassinate enemies. We have invaded whole countries. The whole War-on-Terror reaction to 9/11 wasn't based on any sort of cost-benefit analysis or even simple rage for revenge. It was done to show the world we really are the world's supreme superpower. In that frame of mind, there's no telling what the US might do to make an example out of Snowden.

    By the way, to understand what Snowden is running from, consider the case of fellow whistleblower Bradley Manning. In fact, read Mairead Corrigan-Maguire: Bradley Manning should win the Nobel Peace Prize. I agree: even though historical standards are spotty, this would help make up for one recent gross miscalculation.

    Also see: Peter Van Buren: Edward Snowden's Long Flight:

    If he had a deeper sense of history, Snowden might have found humor in the way the Obama administration chose to revoke his passport just before he left Hong Kong. After all, in the Cold War years, it was the "evil empire," the Soviet Union, which was notorious for refusing to grant dissidents passports, while the U.S. regularly waived such requirements when they escaped to the West.

    To deepen the irony of the moment, perhaps he was able to Google up the 2009-2011 figures on U.S. grants of asylum: 1,222 Russians, 9,493 Chinese, and 22 Ecuadorians, not including family members. Maybe he learned that, despite the tantrums U.S. officials threw regarding the international obligation of Russia to extradite him, the U.S. has recently refused Russian requests to extradite two of its citizens.

    Snowden might have mused over then-candidate Obama's explicit pledge to protect whistleblowers. "Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government," Obama then said, "is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism . . . should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration." It might have been Snowden's only laugh of the flight.

  • Kathleen Geier: The Roberts Court on labor rights: be afraid. Be very afraid.:

    The extent to which the courts are eviscerating workers' rights to be free of workplace harassment and discrimination has been little noticed, but it is an alarming trend. Carmon reports that while appeals court judges reverse employer wins at a rate of 9 percent, they reverse employee wins by a whopping 41 percent. She quotes a prominent employment discrimination attorney, Cyrus Mehri, who recently said, "The doors are closing on people's ability to vindicate their civil rights . . . To some extent you had a judicial repeal of Title VII that hasn't caught the public's attention."

  • Andrew Leonard: Turnkey Totalitarianism: Quotes Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez:

    The problem is that such an architecture of surveillance, once established, would be difficult to dismantle, and prove too potent a tool of control if it ever fell into the hands of people who -- whether through panic, malice, or a misguided confidence in their own ability to secretly judge the public good -- would seek to use it against us.

  • McCain: U.S. Will Have 'Most Militarized Border Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Needless to say, McCain approves: in fact, he was describing the effect of an amendment to the Senate's immigration bill. I'm curious, though, about the pecking order: will it really be more militarized than Israel's West Bank "security fence" or its Gaza border? And, are Israel's borders really less militarized than East Germany's Berlin Wall? Surely McCain didn't mean to disrespect Israel?

  • Andrew O'Hehir: America's split personality: Paranoid superstate and land of equality: Salon's movie critic, so this starts with White House Down and The Heat before getting down to Edward Snowden and recalling a fugitive from further back (1970), Eldridge Cleaver.

    At the close of one of the most momentous news weeks in recent history -- with a historic step forward for marriage equality, a historic disembowelment of voting rights and the United States coming off like an incompetent supervillain in the hunt for Edward Snowden -- we're faced once again with utterly confusing signals about what kind of country we live in. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the deepening similarities between our society and the imagined dystopias of 1984 and Brave New World, but it's important to acknowledge that that isn't the whole story. At the same time, American society remains immensely dynamic, and has become far more diverse and tolerant over the last several decades. I know this is a metaphorical misuse of a clinical term that refers to a serious and complex mental disorder, but at least in the old-fashioned, split-personality sense of the word, America is schizophrenic. For that matter, I'm not so sure we can rule out the clinical mental disorder either.

    He concludes: "What kind of country do we have? The kind that could use more rebels."


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Jon Lee Anderson: State of Terror: On Al-Qaeda in Mali, unfortunately behind the paywall, but recommended by Robert Christgau, whose own piece on Mali -- Voices From a Desert War -- focused on the music but couldn't escape the politics.

  • Kathleen Geier: EPI launches fab new website on economic inequality: She calls this "a fabulous new website," but I had a lot of trouble finding my way around it -- even after I had NoScript enable Javascript for it (before that all it did was prompt me to upgrade my browser) -- and wound up with a cartoon Robert Reich talking. No speakers, so don't know what he was saying, but he probably wasn't apologizing for that stupid The Work of Nations book where he promised we had nothing to worry about free trade wiping out jobs because we'd all wind up being rich "symbolic manipulators." Still, this is an important subject. Hope they get it together.

  • Livia Gershon: No, manufacturing jobs won't revive the economy: The notion that manufacturing jobs are high wage depended historically on unions and a measure of protectionism. Manufactured goods typically have high margins, especially as volume increases; they depend on large initial investments in capital, and labor costs are relatively small, which gives labor unions leverage they don't have in service industries (where labor typically overwhelms all other costs). But in competitive global markets, companies are hard pressed to pass on increased labor costs, and without unions workers have no power to force wages up. So what you see in US manufacturing today is what Gershon describes: a minimum wage pressure cooker.

  • Chris Maisano: Machiavelli doesn't belong to the 1 percent: Makes his case without citing Antonio Gramsci, who long ago argued that The Prince could only have been written for the powerless, since the real princes already knew its counsels.

    The main lessons from The Discourses are that "the few always act in favor of the few," and that the ambitions of the rich are so destructive that they must be vigorously suppressed in order to maintain the egalitarian foundations of republican liberty. His is a political vision with no place for superyachts, carried interest, tax breaks for luxury condo developments, or the legalized bribery of private campaign financing.

Daily Log

Another slow day at home, hacking on the website. Collected a fair amount of Weekend Roundup, though I hadn't hit all the usual sites before calling it done and posting it. Went for a walk but, back and feet aching, cut it short. Took some leftover basmati rice and fried it, starting with a sliced onion, half a red bell pepper, slivered almonds, sultanas, various spices, and topped it with a couple easy over fried eggs. Was decent, especially when served with chutney.

Watched Inspector Lewis and the last two Season Three episodes of The Borgias. Looks like they're retiring Lewis. Next week's Mystery is something else -- looks like that Morse prequel, although I didn't (and don't) recall the title. Laura thinks there will be no more Borgias. In that case, they left the family on an up note (assuming that's what you'd call killing off Lucrezia Borgia's second husband). Alfonso d'Aragon was murdered in 1500. Alexander VI only lived until 2003, by which time he had married Lucrezia off to Alfonso d'Este (Duke of Ferrara) -- this one lasted until her death in 1519. Alexander was succeeded by Pius III, who died 26 days later, at which point Borgia nemesis Giuliano della Rovere finally won election as pope (Julius II). Cesare Borgia had several more successful military campaigns, but was weakened by Alexander's death and imprisoned by Julius. He managed to escape to Spain, and was killed in a battle in 1507.

So if there is a fourth season it will be mostly downhill. I thought they made a mistake ending The Tudors with the death of Henry VIII. The subsequent reigns of Edward VI and Mary would have fit nicely into a single season with much court and religious intrigue, then you'd get into Elizabeth and there's much to cover there. On the other hand, there's not a lot more you can do with the Borgias, and we hardly need more examples of papal and aristocratic treachery of the period -- not that you can't draw plenty of them from Julius II.

Music today (JP): Bill Frisell, Billy Bang; (RG): Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Rhapsody Streamnotes (June 2013)

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

Many people posted mid-year top-10s (more or less). I tried to post this (but it failed):

Tried to sort out a top ten in my Rhapsody Streamnotes intro, but the non-jazz all feels iffy to me; I'm much more confident in the jazz:

  1. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Slippery Rock! (Hot Cup)
  2. Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head (Ambulet)
  3. Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (Savant)
  4. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak (ACT)
  5. Peter Evans: Zebulon (More Is More)
  6. <
  7. Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Functional Arrhythmias (Pi)
  8. Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop: The Flame Alphabet (Not Two)
  9. Ivo Perelman: Serendipity (Leo)
  10. Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran: Hagar's Song (ECM)
  11. Roscoe Mitchell: Duets With Tyshawn Sorey and Special Guest Hugh Ragin (Wide Hive)
  12. Rich Halley, Allison Miller, Barry Altschul, and Trio 3 are close behind. In fact, it's tempting to swap Moran's album with Oliver Lake for the one with Charles Lloyd.

The following is a count of mid-year list mentions (includes referenced list by Matt Rice; up to Jacob Bialis):

21  Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
15  Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park
14  Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose
13  The Uncluded: Hokey Fright
11  Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko
11  Kanye West: Yeezus
10  Rachid Taha: Zoom
10  Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob
10  Wussy: Duo
 9  Deerhunter: Monomania
 9  Rilo Kiley: Rkives
 8  Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold
 7  The Knife: Shaking the Habitual
 7  Pistol Annies: Annie Up
 6  They Might Be Giants: Nanobots
 5  Bettie Serveert: Oh, Mayhem!
 5  Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
 5  Yo La Tengo: Fade
 4  Ceramic Dog: Your Turn
 4  Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap
 4  Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
 4  Paramore: Paramore
 3  Bombino: Nomad
 3  Peter Evans: Zebulon
 3  Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Slippery Rock!
 3  Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse
 3  Dawn Richard: Goldenheart
 3  Tricky: False Idols
 2  Barry Altschul: The 3Dom Factor
 2  Terence Blanchard: Magnetic
 2  DAISY Rage: Kitty
 2  Dawes: Stories Don't End
 2  Fat Tony: Smart Ass Black Boy
 2  Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
 2  Jonny Fritz: Dad Country
 2  Mariem Hassan: El Aiaun Egdat [2012]
 2  Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Grifter's Hymnal [2012]
 2  Joe Lovano: Cross Culture
 2  My Bloody Valentine: MBV
 2  Kate Nash: Girl Talk
 2  The National: Trouble Will Find Me
 2  Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience
 2  Rokia Traore: Beautiful Africa
 2  Wire: Change Becomes Us
 2  Young Fathers: Tape Two
 1  Antonio Antunes/Edgard Scandurra/Toumani Diabate: A Curva da Cintura [2012]
 1  ASAP Rocky: Long.Live.ASAP
 1  Kenny Barron: Kenny Barron and the Brazilian Knights
 1  Baths: Obsidian
 1  James Blake: Overgrown
 1  Bomba Estereo: Elegancia Tropical
 1  Burial: Truant/Rough Sleeper
 1  The Cannanes: Small Batch EP
 1  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky Away
 1  Chicha Libre: Quatro Tigres
 1  J Cole: Yours Truly
 1  Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Functional Arrhythmias
 1  James Cotton: Cotton Mouth Man
 1  The Creole Choir of Cuba: Santiman
 1  Dieuf-Dieul de Theis: Aw Sa Yone Vol 1
 1  Disclosure: Settle
 1  DJ Koze: Amygdala
 1  Dave Douglas: Time Travel
 1  Eels: Wonderful, Glorious
 1  Fantasia: Side Effects of You
 1  The Flaming Lips: The Terror
 1  Frightened Rabbit: Pedestrian Verse
 1  Girls Names: The New Life
 1  Great Thunder: Strange Kicks [EP]
 1  David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around Here
 1  Jason Isbell: Southeastern
 1  Roger Knox: Stranger in My Land
 1  Low: The Invisible Way
 1  Lusine: The Waiting Room
 1  Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak
 1  Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head
 1  Steve Martin/Edie Brickell: Love Has Come for You
 1  David Murray Infinity Quartet: Be My Monster Love
 1  Van Dyke Parks: Songs Cycled
 1  Vincent Peirani: Thrill Box
 1  Phoenix: Bankrupt
 1  Chris Potter: Sirens
 1  Michael Pride's From Bacteria to Boys: Birthing DAys
 1  Martha Redbone Roots Project: The Garden of Love [2012]
 1  Ernst Reijseger/Harmen Fraanje/Mola Sylla: Down Deep
 1  Eric Revis: City of Asylum
 1  Cecile McLorin Salvant: Woman Child
 1  Serengeti: Saal
 1  Wayne Shorter: Without a Net
 1  Suede: Bloodsports
 1  True Blood (Music From the HBO Original Series Vol 4)
 1  Tyler, the Creator: Wolf
 1  Veronica Falls: Waiting for Something to Happen
 1  Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze
 1  Voivod: Target Earth
 1  Yo Ma Ma/Stephen Kalinich/Jon Tiven: Symtomology/Shortcuts to Infinity [2012]
 1  Chloe Howl: "Rumour"
 1  Lindstrom/Todd Terje: "Lanzarote"
 1  Princesa: "Pa Ke Mueva"
 1  Betty Who: "Somebody Loves You"

I wound up posting something from the metacritic file:

If you're curious what other people think, current metacritic file standings:

  1. My Bloody Valentine: MBV (40)
  2. Yo La Tengo: Fade (38)
  3. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (35)
  4. The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (33)
  5. David Bowie: The Next Day; Daft Punk: Random Access Memories; The National: Trouble Will Find Me; Kanye West: Yeezus (31)
  6. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky Away (30)
  7. Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze (28)
  8. Savages: Silence Yourself (27)
  9. James Blake: Overgrown; Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle (26)
  10. Phosphorescent: Muchacho; Pissed Jeans: Honeys; Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito (24)
  11. Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap; Deerhunter: Monomania; Iceage: You're Nothing (23)
  12. The Flaming Lips: The Terror; Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold (22)
  13. Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob (21)
  14. Atoms for Peace: Amok; Local Natives: Hummingbird (20)

This is slightly biased toward us, but not enough to raise the Uncluded (or MOPDTK) above 171, or Wussy above 460.

Daily Log

Finished up Douthat post, backdating it to yesterday, because I had planned on running Rhapsody Streamnotes today. Wrapped that up too.

Watched two more Borgias episodes (season 3, 7-8), leaving two more to go. You always wonder about historical discrepancies. Lots of uncertain information, in large part because Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere) worked so hard at discrediting Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), throwing about all sorts of dubious accusations which fit in nicely with the show's "the original crime family" motto. Still, one historical inaccuracy tonight strikes me as scurrilous: the depiction of Jews fleeing to Rome from the Turks in Constantinople. Alexander VI was known for his relatively decent treatment of Jews, but at the time they were escaping from the Inquisition in Spain, not from the Turks -- in fact, the Ottoman sultan welcomed Spanish Jews to immigrate to the Empire, and the majority of them did. Neil Jordan seems to be playing on the assumption that Moslems and Jews have always been hostile, and he goes one step further by having Alexander's Jews blow up a Turkish navy in a guerrilla operation Mossad would be proud to claim as its own. It is true that Venice was fighting the Ottomans at the time (1499-1503), but I don't think any event resembles the one in the show. (A Spanish-Venetian army won a minor battle at Cephalonia in 1500, but the Ottomans won the war. Ottoman sea power was damaged significantly in 1571 at the Battle of Lepanto. Throughout the 16th century the papacy was involved in organizing anti-Turk "crusades," although none are conventionally counted as such.)

Music today (JP): Pandelis Karayorgis, Guillermo Gregorio, Wayne Wallace, Rob Mazurek, Bill Frisell; (RS): Young Fathers, Flaming Lips, Martha Redbone, Eliane Elias.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Washington Disconnect

I normally don't bother reading Ross Douthat's nonsense, but the Wichita Eagle ran a column called Obama's priorities disconnected from nation's. His setup:

This past January, as President Obama began his second term, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to list their policy priorities for 2013. Huge majorities cited jobs and the economy; sizable majorities cited health care costs and entitlement reform; more modest majorities cited fighting poverty and reforming the tax code. Down at the bottom of the list, with less than 40 percent support in each case, were gun control, immigration and climate change.

Yet six months later, the public's non-priorities look like the entirety of the White House's second-term agenda. The president's failed push for background checks has given way to an ongoing push for immigration reform, and the administration is planning a sweeping regulatory push on carbon emissions this summer. Meanwhile, nobody expects much action on the issues that Americans actually wanted Washington to focus on: Tax and entitlement reform have been back-burnered, and the plight of the unemployed seems to have dropped off the D.C. radar screen entirely.

First thing: lots of code words on that list, like "entitlement reform" (aka "wrecking Social Security") and "reforming the tax code" -- for Republicans, a scheme to reduce taxes on the rich by making them more regressive. (We've had some of that here in KS, exempting the Kochs from income tax -- they're "job creators," see -- while raising sales and property taxes, cutting services, increasing college tuition, and setting state government up for bankruptcy.) I don't know how Pew weasel-worded those issues to get "sizable majorities" behind them, but they could have been worded differently to different results.

"Health care costs" is another matter: the Democrats actually passed something on that a couple years back -- ever heard of the Affordable Care Act? how about "Obamacare"? -- but Republicans opposed it in the first place and have tried to sabotage it ever since. It would be nice if both parties could recognize what a serious problem this is and work together to better manage costs while improving results, but the Republicans are dedicated to defending every rent-seeking opportunity businesses can find to rip off people, even if doing so undermines health care. (Nor have many Democrats been immune to industry lobbying. By the way, what did that Pew poll find about the desirability of limiting the influence of money on politics? That's a very popular issue that both parties are disconnected from.)

Still, after the setup Douthat focuses on "the issues that Americans actually prioritize -- jobs, wages, the economy." He means to demean Obama for speaking on climate change and the Senate for working on immigration reform, as if those aren't real problems, or we cannot expect politicians to work on more than one thing at a time. Still, he's inadvertently hit on something big here, and while his beloved Republicans are far more out to lunch on economic matters than the Democrats are, there's little evidence that Democrats like Obama have a clue how to solve these problems.

Actually, there are two problems here: the macroeconomy, and inequality. The problem with the macroeconomy is insufficient demand compounded by excess capacity. As anyone who understands anything Keynes wrote already knows, there is a straightforward solution to insufficient demand: have the government, which unlike the private sector can do things just because we want to see them done, buy more goods and services until demand and supply reach an equilibrium, then back off as the private sector picks up the slack. What kind of stuff doesn't matter much for the equation, but investments in infrastructure and human capital (education, science, the arts, etc.) tend to do more to raise our collective wealth than mere make-work projects, and much more than destructive projects like war.

Obama did something like this when he pushed his stimulus bill through Congress, but he underestimated how much stimulus would be needed to make up for the private sector losses in the crash. The Republicans, of course, fought him tooth and nail, and as such contributed to the political calculation to ask for too little money for too little time. They kept him from going back to the till for more stimulus money, and they actively sought to limit and ultimately undermine automatic stabilizers like unemployment benefits and food stamps. (Just this week, North Carolina became the first state to kill off its unemployment programs altogether, and you can thank the Republicans there for that.) Republicans have long campaigned for cuts in government spending -- not that, when they held the presidency they actually did much about it -- and over the last few years they've managed to kill off nearly as many public sector jobs as the private sector has added, keeping the job market pretty consistently tanked.

The problem here is that the Republicans see no problem. The "economy" is made up of business owners and workers (and various others), or more pointedly profits and wages. It can be grown broadly -- the "rising tide raises all boats" metaphor -- or inequally. What's happened is that the "recovery" has, pretty much by design, favored profits over wages, and in fact profits (and asset values, at least the stock market) have fully recovered their pre-recession levels, largely at the expense of real wages. For some people the recession is over, and if it continues to hurt workers, so much the better. Both parties are "pro business" these days; what distinguishes the Republicans is how virulently anti-labor they've become.

This didn't just happen. This reflects two trends. One is increasing inequality, which we'll get to. The other is the increasingly predatory nature of business. Capitalism has long run the gamut between two poles: you could make something new of value and sell it, or you could just steal. In the former, one creates positive value; the latter is just a zero-sum game. Capitalism's great claim is how it has raised our standard of living, but that has only been through the former: by creating new goods and selling them to more and more people. Adam Smith showed how the narrow pursuit of self-interest can lead to this good fortune. But what happens when those greedheads discover that they can make more profit stealing than building? Well, that's what has happened in the United States, especially, in recent decades. The leaders have been the banks and bank-like outfits like hedge funds, which have more than doubled their take from the US economy. Of course, most of what they've done is "legal" -- a testament to the intrinsic corruptibility of the American political system, which has responded to growth of lobbies with all sorts of favors, from tax breaks to patents to deregulation to liability protection to ending antitrust enforcement. And while defrauding your investors and screwing your customers are common enough ways to increase profits at someone else's expense, most companies have looked hard at their labor costs: automating jobs, outsourcing them, even good old fashioned union busting -- which the political system has made ever easier.

The increase in economic inequality, which has been continuous since 1980, is a way of keeping score in the class struggle, one which has been consistently won by the rich against those who merely work for a living. And while the Republicans have been shameless in advancing the interests of the rich, and remarkably indifferent to whoever they victimized, the Democrats don't seem to have a clue how to counter the trend, or even to understand why they should. Part of this is that the Democrats aren't immune to the charms and rationalizations of the lobbyists: indeed, the system is so prone that it selects for the most corruptible of Democrats: hence the party dominance of Obama, Clinton, Kerry, Gore, and their ilk -- people whose sense of status is governed by their ability to run shoulders with the Buffetts and Dimons of the world. At best all they can offer are paeans to the lost "middle class" -- a code word that lets some workers feel more worthy than others even though the real differences have more to do with good luck.

There are a lot of problems with increasing inequality -- Jared Bernstein has a good recent post on this, and even he barely scratches the surface -- but one of them is that it erodes the aggregate demand that drives the economy. One way to visualize this is to imagine a zero-sum economy where the share held by the superrich is increasing by stealing from everyone else. One thing that differentiates rich and poor is that the poor spend virtually all of their income but the rich doesn't -- they can't consume all they make so they save. In an growing economy their savings may be put into increasing capacity, but in a zero-sum world their gains reduce demand and wind up being invested in non-productive schemes -- indeed, the only way they can get their expected rate of return is to join the thieves (even if they often wind up the victims of speculative bubbles and fraud).

For a long time, the "middle class" could mask their losses by borrowing, especially against the inflated asset values of their houses. (They also compensated by working more hours, mostly by making the two-earner household the norm.) All that ended with the crash, and it isn't likely to come back again. Before the crash the Republican message was to celebrate those who could maintain the illusion of being better off -- "family values," for instance, emphasized the value of marriage, which usually meant two earners pooling together an income that was slightly better than one person could do in the 1950s. Since the crash, the message has changed: now it's that you're screwed (times are tough, we all have to tighten our belts), but it's because the liberals are lavishing help on the unworthy poor.

Hard to believe a party can get by with such callousness, but the Democrats are blind and helpless, tied up in knots by their cold war allegiance to capitalism and their ongoing dependency on corporate lobbyists. At best they can nip around the edges: raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment compensation, give workers a bit more take-home pay by limiting payroll taxes, extend health care insurance. And they understand the need to bump the income tax on the rich up, although they tend to think of using that to balance the budget rather than expand spending -- that endless characterization of the Democrats as the "tax-and-spend" party has taken its toll, inhibiting them even when that's exactly what is called for. (If the Democrats had repealed the Bush tax cuts first thing in 2009 and spent the savings and some safe multiplier on extra stimulus, the economy would be in better shape now.)

Much more needs to be done about inequality, starting with a psychic blow to the notion that endless accumulation is any kind of virtue, much less the highest one. Using progressive taxes as a kind of socio-economic leveler is part of the answer, but there is much more that can and should be done. If Obama were to take on this issue, he would find a connection, but he wouldn't find a fan in Douthat. Rather than present anything remotely plausible of his own about how to get those "good jobs" back, he descends into blather:

This disconnect is the most serious threat to the current liberal ascendancy. Obama has a good chance to be remembered as "the liberal Reagan," but the Reagan recovery was far better for most Americans than this one has been.

I can't imagine what a "liberal Reagan" might mean. The one thing Reagan did was to transport a sizable slice of the country into a fantasy world from which we have yet to emerge -- one where Obama seems to be as befuddled as anyone, which is what makes even his noblest rhetoric painful to hear. As for the "Reagan recovery," it came out of a very different kind of recession. Demand then was blocked behind artificially high interest rates, and surged when those rates were lowered. Reagan's tax cuts had less to do with the recovery than with how its fruits were distributed. Those years were relatively tolerable because we lived in a much more equitable society then. That we've sunk so far since then can be directly traced back to the bad decisions and deceitfulness and greed of the Reagan administration.

However much Obama admires Reagan as a practical politician, it's folly to think that anyone would aspire to be "the liberal Reagan." Or even dread. Much more likely is that Obama will come to be seen as the "liberal Hoover": the guy who couldn't do even what he wanted to because he had his head wedged so far up the assholes of Wall Street bankers, and thereby let a bad recession drift into a decades-long depression.

Daily Log

Took Laura to acupuncture. When we got there, the power was out. Didn't mention this yesterday, but we had a storm blow through about 6:45-7:30 PM. We didn't hear any sirens, but it got real dark, wind blew hard, got some heavy rain, lights flashed off twice, just a few seconds each time. We had a few small limbs blown down, but not much more. But the storm had peak wind speeds of 89 MPH, and the block we droved to -- near Lincoln and Rock -- had a lot of 3-to-5-inch limbs down. (Noticed some across the street here, too.)

Went to dinner at Kababs, then to a play sponsored by Laura's PSG group. It was "My Name Is Rachel Corrie," with Renee Reimer, a student at Bethel, playing Corrie, reading from her diaries and letters. Had about 40-50 people turn out, at a Mennonite Church on Maize Road. Reimer did a nice job with the material, but it was a bit hard to follow: PA should have had more volume. I found that I could hear the words more clearly if I closed my eyes, but risked falling asleep. Had the sunset in our eyes. There was a tiny backlit screen for the final bit where Corrie gets run over by an Israeli bulldozer. Occurs to me it would be more effective with a large back screen with video cues all along.

Watched an episode of The Borgias. Four more to go.

Music today (JP): Pandelis Karayorgis; (RS): Trio 3 + Geri Allen, Rachid Taha, Fat Tony.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Downloader's Diary (31): June 2013

Insert text from here.


This is the 31st installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 760 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Daily Log

Appliance repair man came and swapped out the ice maker he had installed four years ago. Teflon liner in the tray had corroded, resulting in a leak into the ice bucket, which would then clump up everything. I've been fighting with it for 6-9 months now. Cost $150.

Music today (JP): Whammies; (RS): Kairos 4tet, Trio 3 + Jason Moran.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Daily Log

Took Laura to acupuncture. Went to see Before Midnight, Richard Linklater's third movie with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Not quite as delightful as the first two: where they looked forward hopefully, this one looks back then projects into old age. The talk, which despite the scenery is all that happens and matters, is more biting but no less captivating. It all unfolds in extraordinarily long scenes -- not sure what the record for fewest edit cuts in a two-hour movie is, but this could well be it. Remarkable movie. [A]

Followed with dinner at Yen Ching. Came home and watched two episodes of Major Crimes. The legal principles there are pretty dodgy: the main subtext is that the right to a jury trial is too expensive to bother with these days, and the continuing side-story about the material witness just piles on top of that premise.

Music today (JP): Gregg Kallor, RJ & the Assignment; (RS): Zomby.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Daily Log

Sat in front of the computer all day, mostly doing Metacritic things, occasionally reading political posts. Noticed that No More Mr. Nice Blog has added a link to my blog. Seems like I wrote him at one point when I linked to one of his posts (no public name, but his posts say "Posted by Steve M.").

Music today (JP): Drew Gress, Michael Treni; (RS): J. Cole, Kelly Rowland, Jason Isbell, Mariem Hassan.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21584 [21547] rated (+37), 625 [628] unrated (-3). Strong ratings week, most in Jazz Prospecting although as A Downloader's dribbles in I've added a few items to the Rhapsody Streamnotes file.

Started the week pulling out some older items by unknowns, and for the first half-dozen or so was pleasantly surprised, peaking with the Olivia Foschi record, I think, but that was a trend that couldn't last. After that it was in and out, up and down, winding up with three A- and no less than seven B+(***) -- a last minute extra spin for Evan Parker nudged that record over the line, although it's still possible that the trio has better records I haven't heard yet.

This is the last Monday in June, so I updated the monthly archive and its associated indexes. Wound up with 78 records for June, by far the most for any month so far this year, despite only four weeks.


Chris Amemiya & Jazz Coalescence: In the Rain Shadow (2011 [2013], OA2): Trombonist, born in Hawaii, based in Seattle, first album, a sextet with Jay Thomas on trumpet, Travis Ranney on sax, John Hansen on piano, Jon Hamar on bass, and Steve Korn on drums. Most names I google kick up false positives, but the first "Chris Amemiya" listed sure looks like the same person: a professor of genetics at the University of Washington, mostly working on fish, notably the genetic sequencing of the coelacanth -- the "living fossil" discovered in 1938 (a second species was identified in 1999) bearing deep similarity to 400 million year old fossil fish. His university bio doesn't mention anything about music, but his OA2 bio says he choose "a career path in science." He doesn't compose anything here: picks up a couple pieces from the band (Thomas, Hansen), opens with a piece by Eubie Blake and closes with Cedar Walton. The band swings, and the trombone leads are solid. B+(**)

The Stephen Anderson Trio: Believe (2012 [2013], Summit): Pianist, teaches at University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); third album, plus has a classical album, and played in Lynn Seaton Trio. Starts with a couple trio cuts to show his bona fides, then brings in "special guest" Joel Frahm on tenor sax, who blows hot and hard, the work ethic the pianist had set up. B+(**)

The Aperturistic Trio: Truth and Actuality (2013, Inner Circle Music): Piano trio: James Weidman, Harvie S (bass), Steve Williams (drums). Weidman has three albums under his own name, plus a lot of notable side credits: M-Base/Steve Coleman, Abbey Lincoln, Cassandra Wilson, Kevin Mahogany, Joe Lovano -- more singers, especially. Williams is hard to look up -- Discogs lists 20 with that name, and I only found him on AMG through a back door: no name albums, a few dozen side credits since 1984, notably Miles Davis and Shirley Horn. Didn't bother looking up S, since he regularly berates me (and probably everyone else) for misspelling his name. Bassist, has a long career mostly under his eminently misspellable original name. I associate him with Sheila Jordan, but lately he's tried to remodel himself as a Latin jazz guy. In other words, three underrated veterans used to lurking in the background behind fabulous singers, adopting yet another alias to protect their obscurity. Inside stuff, easy to miss. But if you miss Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones, maybe you shouldn't. B+(***)

Kenny Barron: Kenny Barron & the Brazilian Knights (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, huge pile of records since 1968, also one of the most important jazz educators of our era; not known for Latin jazz but an early (1974) triumph was called Peruvian Blue and he must have picked up some Brazilian tunes during his long tenure as pianist for Stan Getz. His Knights are Sergio Barroso (bass) and Rafael Barata (drums), with Lula Galvao (guitar), Mauricio Einhorn (harmonica), and Idriss Boudrioua (alto sax) added on most tracks, and Claudio Roditi (flugelhorn and muted trumpet) on one. Features songs by the late Johnny Alf, three by Einhorn, one Barron original, and a Jobim that is anything but obligatory. B+(***)

The Convergence Quartet: Slow and Steady (2011 [2013], No Business): Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Alexander Hawkins (piano), Dominic Lash (bass), Harris Eisenstadt (drums). Third album together. All four compose, with Lash -- the least famous to me, but Discogs credits him with 10 albums since 2006 -- getting the upper hand this time. Not all that slow or steady, interesting leads from Bynum and Hawkins, lots of flurry from the others. B+(***)

Correction With Mats Gustafsson: Shift (2012 [2013], No Business): Correction is Sebastian Bergström's piano trio -- their 2010 album Two Nights in April (Ayler) was a high B+ here -- with Joacim Nyberg on bass and Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. Gustafsson plays baritone sax here, and for once brought his inside game, playing around the shifts rather than bulling through them. It's an appealing strategy, one that gives the pianist more to do, and he rises to the occasion. [Vinyl only.] A- [CDR]

David's Angels: What It Seems (2012 [2013], Kopasetic): Singer-songwriter Sofie Norling, b. 1984 in Sweden, based in Stockholm, backed with keybs (Maggi Olin), electric bass (producer David Carlsson), and drums (Michala Østergaard-Nielsen). Second group album. Doesn't fit any category: art song tempos but not the archness, singer has jazz inflections, instrumental bits lean toward experimental rock (more the bass than the jazz drums), Olin's Rhodes is sharper than her piano precisely because of the pencil-thin tone. Group name seems malapropos even if Carlsson is pulling the strings. B+(***)

Olivia Foschi: Perennial Dreamer (2012 [2013], self-released): Singer, b. near San Francisco, grew up and studied there and in Italy, eventually landing in New York. First album, produced by drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., with Miki Hiyama (piano), David Rosenthal (guitar), Michael Olatuja (bass), and guest spots (notably Gegoire Maret and Stacy Dillard). About half originals, half covers -- the latter stand out, especially "Everything Happens to Me." B+(***)

Gansch & Breinschmid: Live (2012 [2013], Preiser): Duets, live at the Wiener Konzerthaus, with trumpeter Thomas Gansch, b. 1975, and bassist Georg Breinschmid, b. 1973, both from Austria. Gansch has a previous album and has played in Vienna Art Orchestra. Breinschmid has several. Both also sing here, or joke. I'd have to dig into the trots to figure out how funny their act really is, but the music, and the audience, offers plenty of hints. B+(**)

Amos Garrett Jazz Trio: Jazzblues (2010-11 [2013], Stony Plain): Detroit bluesman, has about fifteen albums since 1980, this the first styled as jazz. The trio adds a second guitarist, Keith Sith, and Greg Carroll on bass. Eight songs, two each from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, recorded live, strung out softly with a delicate tone, nothing fancy. B+(*)

Patricia Julien Project: Still Light at Night (2012, self-released): Flutist, teaches at University of Vermont, second album, her quartet including Alec Julien on guitar. Pleasant enough, but so free of bop or swing or avant moves it might get stuck in new age. B

Billy Lester: Storytime (2010-11 [2013], JKA): Pianist, studied under Sal Mosca and evidently considers himself a Tristanoite. Fourth album since 1995, all originals, done solo. Website quotes Howard Mandel dubbing this "connoisseur jazz." I can't disagree. My appreciation for solo piano usually wears thin, but this is engaging all the way through, even tempered with bop moves -- song titles namecheck Bud Powell as well as Mosca. B+(**)

Nicolas Masson/Roberto Pianca/Emanuele Maniscalco: Third Reel (2012 [2013], ECM): Swiss saxophonist-clarinetist, fifth album since 2001, with Pianca on guitar and Maniscalco on drums. All three compose, with the drummer taking eight (of 14) pieces, two more joint improvs. Slows it down a bit too much. B [advance]

Bernie Mora & Tangent: Dandelion (2013, Rhombus): Guitarist, unable to find out much about him -- one post states that he has previous albums in 1990 and 1995, but I don't find them in AMG (or anywhere). Release party is is El Paso, but band members, including saxophonist Doug Webb, are based in Los Angeles. All Mora originals, thick funk-fusion, the opening "Twilight Tango" cartoonishly grand. B-

Bob Mover: My Heart Tells Me (2010-11 [2013], Motema, 2CD): Saxophonist, b. 1952, plays more alto than tenor, only has about nine albums, mostly 1977-88, then 1997, 2008, and this magnum opus. Mainstream player (when he doesn't kick it into bop overdrive), also sings, a frail crooner, possibly influenced by Chet Baker but I suspect such cases just find their vulnerability and pick it like a scab, sometimes turning it into something affecting. First disc here is all standards, mostly vocals, a quartet with Kenny Barron, Bob Cranshaw, and Steve Williams. Second disc has only one vocal, mostly originals with some swing, adds Josh Evans on trumpet, sometimes Steve Hall on tenor sax, and occasionally swaps in Victor Lewis on drums. Nice to have either option. B+(***)

Jovino Santos Neto: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series Vol. 4 (2007 [2013], Adventure Music): Brazilian pianist, about ten albums since 1997; plays solo here, tackling twenty pieces, ten originals, ten covers, with Hermeto Pascoal a favored source, three American standards, and "Blackbird" (the opener). B

Noertker's Moxie: Little Bluedevil (Blue Rider Suite, Vol. 2) (2011-12 [2012], Edgetone): Bassist Bill Noertker's group, his principal collaborator Annelise Zamula (tenor sax, flute), with all other musicians listed after a "with." Has a previous Blue Rider Suite volume (2010), three volumes of Sketches of Catalonia, a couple more since 2003, and an earlier (1993-95) group called After the End of the World Coretet. The Blue Rider sets are inspired by paintings by Kandinsky, Klee, and Franz Marc, [some] originally published in the Blue Rider Almanac (1912). As is always a risk with suites, more color than dynamism, and more flute than sax. B

John O'Gallagher: The Anton Webern Project (2012 [2013], Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, ninth album since 2002 plus a long list of side credits where he's often the real star. This is based on eight opuses by Austrian 12-tone composer Anton Webern, refashioned for a superb jazz group with Matt Moran (vibes), Pete McCann (guitar), Russ Lossing (keybs), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and Margaret Grebowicz (voice). I listened to Webern some during my Adorno phase: found him the most tolerable of the 12-toners, possibly because his odd pieces were so short and oblique, but this builds outward, and aside from the occasional vocals I'd never suspect this to come out of central Europe. Fine ensemble work and solos, especially McCann and O'Gallagher. A-

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Live at Maya Recordings Festival (2011 [2013], No Business): I can hardly guess how many records this trio has together: 10? 20? More? The earliest trio I see is 1986, but all three played in bassist Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra on Ode in 1972. Drummer Lytton appeared on a duo with Parker in 1972. And they were in a quartet with George Lewis in 1983. AMG credits Lytton with appearing on 26 Parker albums, and Guy on 25. So, probably close to a dozen, certainly if you count the quartets. I'm not sure how this ranks, but the basics are very solid. Parker's soprano sax is unique, especially with the circular breathing, while his tenor is rougher and more personable. A-

The Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra: Artistry: A Tribute to Stan Kenton (2012 [2013], MAMA): Alto saxophonist, came up through big bands (Stan Kenton, Louie Bellson, Bob Florence, and others) and has about ten albums, most or all big band, since 1998. This group has a full brass section (plus French horns and tuba), extra reeds (including a guest shot for Hubert Laws) and percussion, both guitar and piano, and John Proulx's "wordless vocals" -- no point offering less than the kitchen sink when it comes to honoring Stan Kenton. Gets the basic idea, but misses the sense that Kenton enjoyed that he was doing something adventurous, even when it was merely outlandish. B

Frank Rosaly: Cicada Music (2008-11 [2013], Delmark): Drummer, plays in various Chicago groups, including Fast Citizens and Rempis Percussion Quartet. Third album, all originals, cut in two distant sessions but evidently with same lineup. The horns are mostly clarinets (James Falzone, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Keefe Jackson on bass and contrabass plus some tenor sax) so they tend to run soft, and the vibes (Jason Adasiewicz, of course) heightens that. B+(**)

Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temple II (2011-12 [2013], Asthmatic Kitty): Guitarist, fourth album since 2007, has some jazz affinities but on a rock label wrote lyrics to most of his eight songs (also covers from Brian Wilson, Joe Jackson, and Frank Zappa), doling them out to seven vocalists (most famous labelmate Sufjan Stevens), and shuffles many more musicians in and out, looking for "juxtapositions." Such eclecticism isn't without interest, but it doesn't cohere very often. B [advance: July 16]

June Tabor/Iain Ballamy/Huw Warren: Quercus (2006 [2013], ECM): English folk singer, has a couple dozen albums since 1976, including Silly Sisters with Maddy Prior and several with Oysterband. This is very stripped down with pianist Warren backing and saxophonist Ballamy interpolating, a combo which sets her voice off nicely -- although I'm still a bigger fan of the tenor sax. B+(***) [advance]

Bruce Torff: Look Again (2012 [2013], Summit): Pianist, credited with keyboards and percussion here; teaches at Hofstra, in the School of Education and Allied Human Services. First album, songs with lyrics sung by Pete McGuinness, who sort of splits the difference between Chet Baker and Robert Wyatt while still being able to carry a tune. First-rate musicians can navigate the postbop cool and add something, notably Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Pete McCann (guitar), Matt Wilson (drums). B+(*)

Eric Vaughn: Minor Relocation (2011 [2012], self-released): Pianist, b. 1954 in Connecticut, took lessons from Sal Mosca but went to college (San Francisco) on a basketball scholarship, returning to music after he injured his knees. Cut his first record in 1997; this looks to be his fourth, some trio, some with Bob Kenmotso on tenor sax (5 cuts) or Bernie Williams on flute (1); mostly originals, but two (of three) covers are repeated for a "Take 2": "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Stella by Starlight." B+(**)

The Verge: Introducing . . . the Verge (2012, Danger Productions): Pop jazz group led by Jon Hanser, who plays keybs, sings, and wrote most of the pieces; flanked by Kenny Shanker (sax, keybs) and Brian Fishler (drums), both adding their voices. Presumably their first album -- AMG lists another, but I suspect it's by a totally different group. Haven't deciphered all the fine print, but one song features Richard Bona, and I suspect there are more guests (but they don't matter much). Not as slick or as bland as promised -- I hear some (dare I say it?) jazz breaks in with the funk, a bit of hip-hop too, and nothing I would call ersatz. B+(*)

Jeff Williams: The Listener (2012 [2013], Whirlwind): Drummer, b. 1950, sixth album since 1994, a two-horn quartet with Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John O'Gallagher (alto sax) up front, and John Hébert on bass. Eubanks and Hébert contributed songs, Williams wrote four originals, and they covered "Dedicated to You." O'Gallagher is especially engaging. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jimmy Amadie Trio: Live! At the Philadelphia Museum of Art (TP)
  • Billy Bang: Da Bang! (TUM)
  • Brandon Bernstein: But Beautiful (Jazz Collective)
  • Kenny Burrell: Special Requests (And Other Favorites) (High Note)
  • Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad: Plays Puccini (self-released): October 1
  • Glenn Cashman's Southland Nonet: Music Without Borders (Primrose Lane)
  • Ethan Iverson/Lee Konitz/Larry Grenadier/Jorge Rossy: Costumes Are Mandatory (High Note)
  • Iro Haarla Sextet: Kolibri (TUM)
  • Ben Monder: Hydra (Sunnyside): July 30
  • Abigail Richards: Every Little Star (self-released)
  • Reg Schwager Trio: Chromology (2010, Jazz From Rant)
  • Reg Schwager: Duets (2011, Jazz From Rant)
  • Reg Schwager/David Restivo: Arctic Passage (Jazz From Rant)
  • Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue: Live (Spartacus -2009)
  • Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: In the Spirit of Duke (Spartacus)
  • Tunk Trio: Summer Baby (Tunk Music)

Daily Log

Took Laura to acupuncture, but skipped out on her PSG meeting as well as the big school board meeting where they're supposed to decide the fate of Wichita Southeast High School. It was built in 1957 about one mile south and 3.5 miles east of downtown, in a neighborhood that was being built up during the 1950s -- mostly small ranch-style homes with brick facades, relatively close to three large aircraft factories on the southeast edge of town. It serves 2000 students now, which is about its long-term average. Now the school board wants to shut it down and build a new $54 million high school a further six miles out, well beyond the factories and McConnell AFB, in an area that is still mostly farmland dotted with a couple housing projects, with no extant suburbs anywhere in that direction. The only alternative, they say, would be to spend $27 million to expand and upgrade existing facilities, which would require condemning and buying up nearby residential land to build a ballpark and a gym and other such things.

I've written previously on how developers chew up nearby farmland to build new housing projects, which the city then incorporates and sprawls while the "inner city" -- which is to say virtually all the city that existed when I was growing up in the 1950s -- is hollowed out. Wichita has what is probably the least densely developed downtown area of any city of its size in the country. The nearest grocery store to downtown is two miles east, and that only exists because it's adjacent to the exceptionally ritzy (albeit old) College Hill neighborhood. There is some logic in "going where the city goes," but the Southeast proposal -- which I gather they approved tonight, despite all my friends who protested and spoke against it -- is leapfrogging city development in a tasteless and dangerous direction.

Spent most of the day preparing my Music Week/Jazz Prospecting post. Had to go grocery shopping. Watched Inspector Lewis and The Killing.

Music today (JP): John O'Gallagher, Marilyn Crispell.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:


  • Mark Binelli: Rogue State: How Far-Right Fanatics Hijacked Kansas:

    Once in office, Brownback surprised critics and supporters alike with the fervor of his pursuit of power, pushing what reporter John Gramlich of Stateline described as perhaps "the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation": gutting spending on social services and education, privatizing the state's Medicaid system, undermining the teacher's union, becoming the only state to entirely abolish funding for the arts, boasting that he would sign any anti-abortion bill that crossed his desk, and -- most significantly -- pushing through the largest package of [income] tax cuts in Kansas history. His avowed goal is to eliminate the state income tax altogether, a move that many predict will torpedo the budget and engender even more draconian cuts in spending. "Other Republican-led states have experimented with many of the same changes," Gramlich pointed out -- the difference in Kansas being that Brownback "wants to make all of those changes simultaneously."

    I added the "[income]" to be clear: the state sales tax has actually gone up under Brownback, and local property tax levies are also likely to rise to make up for cuts at the state level. Brownback ran in 2008 for president, but found no support in Iowa. In 2010, he left a safe Senate seat to run for governor, figuring that the executive experience would bolster a future presidential campaign. (Meanwhile, in 2012 he was one of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's loudest boosters -- yet another gross miscalculation.) The Kansas legislature was solidly Republican after the 2010 elections, but not extremist enough for Brownback, who led a purge of the last traces of Republican moderation in the state in 2012.

    Binelli's piece is long and detailed on how all this came about. One minor error: the Wichita ballot initiative attempted to add fluoride to the drinking water, not remove it; the measure failed, as have similar measures over many decades.

  • John Cassidy: Why America Still Needs Affirmative Action: Describes the University of Texas case before the Supreme Court now, where UT guarantees that anyone who tests in the top 10% of their high school class, regardless of race and regardless of how shitty the high school, can claim a slot at UT. Some white girl who didn't make the grade sued, and pundits figure the Roberts Court will side with her.

    Almost twenty years ago, when I first pointed to studies suggesting that social mobility in the United States had been greatly exaggerated, and that other advanced countries were more fluid, many of my American friends and colleagues would stare at me blankly. They simply didn't believe it. But in the past decade or so, many more studies have been done, and almost all of them deliver the same message. Yes, some people start out at the bottom and work their way to the top, but not very many. Statistically speaking, if you are born into a household in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, the probability that by the age of forty you will have reached the top forty per cent of the distribution is about one in six. To put it another way, the odds of you staying where you are, or moving up one just quintile, are about five in six.

    In a merit-based system, family ties shouldn't matter very much. But compared to people in places like Canada and Scandinavia, Americans tend to follow the earnings paths of their parents. On close inspection, the vast majority of highly successful Americans -- Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama among them -- turn out to be the progeny of highly educated professionals. For folks who start out in the cellar of U.S. society, even climbing up to the parlor level is quite a feat, and one that, these days, often demands a college education.

    Affirmative action was always based on a fallacy: the notion that we can solve some inequality problems while leaving class inequality intact. Nonetheless, it did make sense to extend extra opportunities to blacks: to compensate for centuries of discrimination, to provide a check against continuing racism, and to start to reduce the class basis for racism, and as such the potential conflict over race. (It's worth nothing here that historians like David Brion Davis have shown that slavery preceded the articulation of racist theories, with the latter used as rationalizations for the former.) Moreover, by opening up those extra opportunities, the nation as a whole has benefited by the extra talent.

    All those reason are as valid now as ever, but they've become unfashionable in certain circles (namely conservative Republicans): on the one hand they'd like to pretend all that unpleasant racism stuff is behind us; on the other they want their white constituents to think that the reason they're getting screwed is because liberals are sucking up to blacks and immigrants. But deeper than that, they've decided that this is no longer a land of increasing opportunity, and as the economy collapses the only way those on top can stay on top is to use their power to push everyone else down. Just to take one example, the way advanced education has been priced up makes it an ever more exclusive domain of the already rich. Even the old ideas of meritocracy have been abandoned. After all, when you let people rise by merit, you wind up with the likes of Clinton and Obama -- and even if their chief merit is sucking up to the rich and powerful, well, that's not enough any more.

  • Tim Dickinson: Michael Hastings, 'Rolling Stone' Contributor, Dead at 33: Killed in a car crash in Los Angeles. His reporting on Gen. Stanley McChrystal brought the "supreme commander" in Afghistan's career to a quick close, and his book on McChrystal and Petreus The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan is one of the best we have on that foolish misadventure.

  • Glenn Greenwald: On the Espionage Act Charges Against Edward Snowden:

    The US government has charged Edward Snowden with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute enacted to criminalize dissent against World War I. My priority at the moment is working on our next set of stories, so I just want to briefly note a few points about this.

    Prior to Barack Obama's inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That's because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify that?

    For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect "noble" and "patriotic" whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that the New Yorker's Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a "standstill," while James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper that "President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom." Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama administration's threat to the news-gathering process not a serious crisis at this point? [ . . . ]

    The irony is obvious: the same people who are building a ubiquitous surveillance system to spy on everyone in the world, including their own citizens, are now accusing the person who exposed it of "espionage." It seems clear that the people who are actually bringing "injury to the United States" are those who are waging war on basic tenets of transparency and secretly constructing a mass and often illegal and unconstitutional surveillance apparatus aimed at American citizens -- and those who are lying to the American people and its Congress about what they're doing -- rather than those who are devoted to informing the American people that this is being done.

  • Charlie Savage/Michael S Schmidt: The FBI Deemed Agents Faultless in 150 Shootings: You may be thinking you'd have to have a police department as inept as the Seattle PD depicted in The Killing to let a suspect be shot to death during interrogation, but the FBI managed to do just that in Orlando a few weeks back. Needless to say, the FBI launched a prompt and thorough investigation into itself, and duly determined that they had done nothing wrong. They say "practice makes perfect," and indeed the FBI has a lot of practice investigating itself:

    "The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally," a bureau spokesman said.

    But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 "subjects" and wounded about 80 others -- and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

    The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.

    In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.'s internal investigation was the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knife, was unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide detectives are not independently investigating what happened.


Also, a link for further study:

Daily Log

Woke up around 6AM drowning in reflux. Came downstairs. Took about an hour to get past the burns in my throat. Worked on the puzzle. Read some. Went back to bed, but got up about every hour or two until 1PM, start of my official day. Ate stuff I shouldn't yesterday, and missed my pills until evening. My life's a wreck when Laura isn't here. She's not doing much better. She called at 4PM and is stuck in Detroit airport, flight to Chicago delayed. At least her reunion event went well, and it was good to see Ebee and the Durfees.

Laura got home around 11PM. We watched the Mad Men season finale afterwards. Lots of strange twists, mostly involving partners (and others) wanting to escape to California. Leaves an unsettled mess for next year, but not a lot of reason to care.

Music today (JP): Aperturistic Trio, the Verge, June Tabor, David's Angels, Amos Garrett.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Employment Graph

The single most important thing you should understand about the economic debacle that started in 2007-08 is summed up in this chart, courtesy of Paul Krugman: A Potentially Tragic Taper:

What you see is that the percentage of the entire US civilian population that was employed was inching up from 2003-07, then took a deep plunge in 2008-09, and since then hasn't moved a bit. The gray band denotes the calendar quarters when US GDP actually shrank, which is the technical definition of a recession. However, the economy was still cutting jobs in the quarter after GDP turned positive. And while the GDP figures have been positive ever since, denoting a "recovery" (even if a rather weak one) that hasn't even begun to restore employment levels, much less make up for the lost output.

You may think that unemployment rates have declined a bit. Indeed, the headline figures have dropped from 10% to about 8%, but as this chart shows, that drop has been nothing but a bookkeeping convenience: all that has dropped is the number of people actively seeking work (as counted by the Labor Deptartment).

Under different circumstances, these numbers might mean something else. For instance, the slight increase in percentage employed from 2003 to 2007 is mostly due to the declining fortunes of labor even in an expanding economy: what you have are more spouses working, more students working, more people coming out of retirement to pick up a little extra income to compensate for higher tuition and declining living standards. If the Obama administration had made strong moves to shore up wages and welfare standards, as the New Deal did in the 1930s, you might still see a similar decline in overall employment rate, but it would have been coupled with an increasing standard of living.

But Obama was no Roosevelt. Both dealt with banking crises, but where Roosevelt saved the banks by strict regulation and insuring deposits, Obama bailed them out and force-fed them cash until they were liquid again. And aside from an inadequate stimulus bill, he did nothing more: credit froze, employment crashed, first the banks then everyone were allowed to merge and crowd out competition, the labor market was crushed, then austerity came into vogue and how you can't even get the House to fund the food stamp program -- which, by the way, is welfare for agribusiness and low-wage employers like WalMart as much as it is for the recipients.

Krugman's piece mostly talks about the Fed and what little it can do. For a broader picture of what happened, see Brad DeLong's review of Alan Blinder's After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead: The Second Great Depression: Why the Economic Crisis Is Worse Than You Think:

But the U.S. economy is worse than "frail," and there are few signs that it is being nursed "back to health." Most economists claim at least one silver lining in the economic downturn: that it was not as bad as the Great Depression. Up until recently, I agreed; I even took to calling the episode "the Lesser Depression." I now suspect that I was wrong. Compare the ongoing crisis to the Great Depression, and there is hardly anything "lesser" about it. The European economy today stands in a worse position compared to 2007 than it did in 1935 compared to 1929, when the Great Depression began. And it looks as if the U.S. economy, when all is said and done, will have faced certainly one lost decade, and perhaps even two.

If you look at output charts of the first six months of this depression versus the one in 1929, the rate of collapse is almost exactly the same. What was different this time was that the free fall -- those days when financial writers were aghast at staring into the abyss -- was halted by a combination of automatic stabilizers and emergency acts by government. The single biggest one was that the public sector is much larger now than it was in 1929, so the collapse of the private sector took less of the overall economy down with it. Also measures like unemployment insurance kicked in. And the central banks cut interest rates and pumped more cash into the economy -- something that was near impossible in 1929 when most of the world's nations were stuck on the gold standard. Then the banks were flooded with trillions of dollars, while companies aggressively cut jobs and deleveraged to restore profitability. A year after the plunge, no one was talking about abyss any more, even as employment continued to wane. So we had reason to believe that this time was different, and that led to a false sense of security, and a sudden rightward turn in politics. And that, in turn, manically, insanely, turned against the very forces that had just saved the world from economic collapse. The result is that: purely for political reasons we have turned the recovery around and are headed once again for collapse.

At the moment, this is more evident in Europe than in the US. In the Eurozone that's because the single currency does not allow for rebalancing of debts and exports, a situation which is exacerbated by conservative control of the central bank. (Much as peace is too important to be left to the generals, the economy is too important to be handed over to the whims of bankers.) Meanwhile, the UK, which is at least free of the Euro, is mired in a cult of austerity that already overturned the recovery. The US isn't in quite so bad shape because government isn't so centralized, but the Republicans at all levels are working hard to make life as hard as possible on working (and especially no-longer-working) folks, and the Democrats are at best passively dragging their feet and at worst, in thrall to the same bankrupt ideology (and the same moneyed corruptors), dream of "grand bargains" instead of fighting back against the assaults of the superrich.

Democratic presidents from Roosevelt to Johnson regularly came up with catchy slogans to sum up political programs that ultimately aimed at greater equality and economic security for all people -- the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society. Obama has no such program -- at most he hopes to slow down the anti-equality, anti-security juggernaut -- so of course it has no slogan to sell. If he were honest, he'd call his program the No Deal, because he's offering nothing, and he's not even delivering that.

Daily Log

Went out shopping. Bought underwear and T-shirts at Sears, a shower splash guard and some drain cleaner at Home Depot, and picked up some yogurt and a couple plastic cases at Target. Going to use the latter to store excess clothes -- mostly socks, which I have in abundance but haven't been able to find anything I've liked since Sears stopped carrying terrycloth socks more than a decade ago.

Worked on Christgau website: added last two weeks EW to database, split out Louis Armstrong Museum article, checked NPR and found two new posts, updated Changelog, added urls and alinks to database, packed it all up and installed it. Sent out a notice. Sometime next week I'll have Christgau arrange to move to a new server, then I'll have to hustle to get it all working. Last update was Dec. 28, 2012, so I've been paralyzed a long time. Spent a lot of time today thinking about how I never get anything done. This is something that's been bugging me, and it's nice to move it on.

Laura called and said she had a good time at the reunion. That at least makes the hassle somewhat worthwhile. Said she's real tired, which is easy to believe.

Knocked out the Krugman-DeLong post above. Added a Glenn Greenwald piece to tomorrow's Weekend Update, so I have four pieces now, pretty good ones (I think).

Music today (JP): Frank Rosaly, Jeff Williams, Bob Mover; (RS): Deafheaven, Daniel Romano.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Daily Log

Got up at 8:30 to take Laura to airport. She has a flight to Detroit (via Chicago), going for her 50th high school reunion. She resisted going until last week, but seems like she will find quite a few old friends there. She'll have events tonight and tomorrow, then come back to Wichita on Sunday. Should also see some dear friends of her father's.

Not something I'm ever likely to do. I can only remember one name from high school, and that mostly because I knew him before, at Hamilton. (I can remember dozens of names from Hamilton, but most went to East HS, where I went -- briefly, first semester of two years -- to South. We lived close to the seam between three high schools. My sister went to East. Two older boys next door went to West, which was actually closest.)

Went back to bed, and got up about 3:30, but still feeling pretty wiped out.

Got a phone call from Jerry Stewart's ex-wife worried that she was unable to reach him. He's not answering my calls or emails either, so I went over to his apartment and a guy on the porch said he had packed up and trucked off to Mississippi -- something about "his mother dying," more likely his first wife or one of his kids. He's been a good person for me to know and work with, but gets into troubled moods where he shuts out his friends.

Dug a little deeper into the Toyota dashboard. Was able to snap out the plastic insert around the gearshift, which should give me better access to the middle panel I need to ease out so I can fix the broken compartment door. Slow and touchy work, especially given that I don't know exactly what I'm doing.

Laura got stuck in Chicago: connection to Detroit boarded then didn't take off then got cancelled. When she heard she couldn't get to Detroit until tomorrow night she decided to turn around and come back to Wichita, but they found her an earlier plane Saturday, so she'll at least make it to Saturday's event. Stayed overnight with her cousin Ebee, so at least balances the bad with a little plus.

Music today (JP): Chris Schlarb; (RS): Homeboy Sandman, Aceyalone, Future Bible Heroes, Oblivians.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Daily Log

Took Laura to acupuncture. Came straight home. Finished jigsaw puzzle, a 1000 pc. Van Gogh, easy and pleasant. Watched the NBA final game, which Miami won after a late San Antonio fumble. Big game for LeBron James: nobody else quite looked like they belonged in his league.

Music today (JP): Evan Parker, Convergence Quartet, Correction; (RS): Mark de Clive-Lowe, Melt Yourself Down, Samba Touré, SZA.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Expert Comments

Milo Miles asked what was everyone's "gateway" into hip-hop. He added:

What prepared me to hear hip-hop (or at least DJs and rappers) as a regular part of African-American music was not just my long-term fondness for the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron but also a quirk selection of off-color humor toasters like Rudy Ray Moore (Eat Out More Often was just the filth grail the first year in Missoula), Johnny Otis disguised as Snatch and the Poontangs and Skillet and Leroy (who kinda paralleled my interest in Chester Himes).

I don't have it handy to check, but wasn't Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's "Comment" also spoken-wordy? I dug them a lot back in the early days.

I'd heard punk as the enemy of rock and disco as the enemy of soul, so I was all ready to brush aside this "rap is the enemy of music" racket.

Christgau:

I'm gonna answer this one. I liked Rapper's Delight, got into GF's Birthday while I was writing the first CG book (which is saying something), and was converted and transfixed one night when I put on the wrong side of That's the Joint and listened to Doug Wimbish play the bass for four-five minutes--then played the wrong side again. I was 38.

Michael Tatum, whose sync on "Rapper's Delight" makes him 26 years younger:

I fell in love with "Rapper's Delight" and "White Lines" when I was a little boy listening to AM radio, but I never built on that at the time -- I was about twelve. I still thought melody was the most important thing in music, so I would have had a block on it anyway. Later, in high school, my friends had Licensed to Ill and Raising Hell and "It Takes Two" and it still didn't really take. (I think on a certain level I was still clinging to my parents' Joni Mitchell records, if you know what I mean, but I did love Prince even at the time.)

When I was home from college one summer, a friend of mine asked what music I was into. Pretty sure I answered the Pixies, Out of Time, things like that. "But what about hip hop?" he asked. I meekly replied I wasn't into hip hop. He was completely incredulous. "What in the world are TALKING about?" he reprimanded me. So, he got me totally stoned and put on It Takes a Nation of Millions, second side. That bewitching saxophone sample, that hypnotic loop. That litany: "The same god that spoke to Nelson Mandela . . ." I was absolutely entranced -- spellbound. From that moment, I was a fan, excitedly catching up. Public Enemy was It. My friend also taped me O.G., Mama Said Knock You Out, and Paul's Boutique -- all, I should add, Xgau faves, though I didn't know that yet. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Couldn't believe how smart the words were, how electrifying the music was. When I try to explain to people how great hip hop is as music, not just words on the page, I flash on those records . . . though you would have thought "It Takes Two" would have been enough.

Daily Log

James Gandolfini died, heart attack, 51. As Todd Snider says: the number one sign of heart disease? Sudden death. I gave up on the first season of The Sopranos: couldn't stand Olivia, not least because she was a dead ringer for my grandmother -- someone I long had issues with, mostly because she seemed to be so insufferable in her contempt for the rest of humanity. Olivia was an order of magnitude or two more evil, but she brought out the worst in my memory of my grandmother.

I returned to The Sopranos by season three, and watched it to the end. Overrated, but mostly unsentimental: the "gangster as soldier" rationalizations always rang hollow; all they ever did was steal shit, then piss it away, creating a steep internal hierarchy that never amounted to much in the larger world -- the scene where Christopher steals a bag of gratuities from an aging actress (Lauren Bacall?) was a perfect example. They did manage to kill a lot, and screen violence is a tonic in America.

Music today (JP): Kenny Barron, Chris Amemiya, Bernie Mora, Kim Richmond; (RS): Kanye West.

First impression of Yeezus: reminds me of Tusk. Sent my draft to Tatum, who responded that he loves the album -- but wasn't surprised that I didn't.


Update [June 21]: Nicky commented on EW:

I've argued so strongly in favor of Yeezus that I'm starting to alienate well-meaning detractors, so I'm going to let xgau's take on the purpose of Prince XV talk instead:

"If I were so inclined maybe I could extract a vision or at least a cultural meaning from these songs, but I know the lyrics well enough to leave their deeper meanings to his sexual partners and business associates, and I'm neither smart nor stupid enough to parse his racial struggle."

Actually, first time I read that I thought he was arguing against the record. Most of what I've read elsewhere strikes me as nonsense, esp. when the subject is West's Ego. Christgau has dodged the record for a week now. I've been promised Tatum's review on Monday.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Daily Log

Sad to see that Michael Hastings, 33, died in a car crash today. His book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan, is one of the best on America's schizophrenic mission in Afghanistan.

Watched basketball game, San Antonio blowing it at the end. I've rarely seen a coach make such blatantly bad moves: sitting out Duncan on two crucial plays, one of which would have saved the game with a rebound, then sitting Parker on a play that Ginobli screwed up driving up the middle, when you would certainly have preferred Parker handling the ball. Followed that with the third season opener of The Borgias, which is where we're promised the story gets bloody.

Music today: JP: Stephen Anderson, Bruce Torff, Eric Vaughn, Billy Lester, Olivia Foschi, Noertker's Moxie, Patricia Julien. All were better than I expected, until Noertker (and Julien).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21547 [21522] rated (+25), 628 [628] unrated (-0).

Midweek I checked and verified that I hadn't rated much. Better than average records this week, and that takes more than average time. The only one of the high B+'s that didn't take at least three plays was Davidson, and that was a double. The two that wound up A- took five plays each: the former before I satisfied myself that I hadn't become too automatic on Ellery Eskelin; the latter wondering whether I'm too sentimental about that '70s loft scene. Maybe I am a tough grader -- as one artist letter charged -- after all. The two piano-bass-drums records (Agnel, Van Hove) have some of the week's best moments, but I held them back for the less striking spots.


Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Meteo (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1964 in Paris; tenth album since 2000, a trio with Edwards on bass and Noble on drums. Free, the piano often lurking as bass and drums set up a forest of uncertainty, but very impressive when it all comes crashing together. B+(***)

Lynn Baker Quartet: LectroCoustic (2012 [2013], OA2): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, teaches at Lamont School of Music (University of Denver), second album, with Eric Gunnison (keybs), Eduardo "Bijoux" Barbosa (bass), and Paul Mullikin (drums) -- as the title suggests, the keyb/bass players switch between electric and acoustic modes. Neither do much more than to set up a r&b/soul jazz vibe which validates Baker's honking instincts, although he also enjoys Coltrane-ish riffing. B+(*)

Roger Davidson: Journey to Rio (2011 [2013], Soundbrush, 2CD): Pianist, American but b. 1952 in Paris, France; has 18 albums since 2000, mostly Brazilian themed although a couple take on other Latin idioms. This was recorded in Rio de Janeiro on his first visit to the country, with Pablo Aslan producing and a raft of Brazilian studio musicians. Marceo Martins offers a few fine sax solos and a lot of flute, which flutters delicately over the piano rhythm -- which no matter the accompaniment is central. B+(***)

Jon Davis: One Up Front (2012 [2013], Posi-Tone): Pianist, based in San Francisco in the 1980s and in New York since; website lists 48 albums he's played on since 1985 but none under his own name; AMG lists a previous solo album. Trio with Joris Teepe on bass and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums. Four originals, one by Teepe, covers from Berlin and Porter, Silver and Mingus, all done with aplomb. B+(**)

Harris Eisenstadt September Trio: The Destructive Element (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto, father was also a drummer; has been prolific since 2002 -- AMG lists 14 records, one (looks like) a dupe, but hasn't logged this one yet. One of the best of those was his 2011 September Trio with Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax and Angelica Sanchez on piano. Same group here: Eskelin is superb at stepping around the rhythms, while the pianist burns right through them, adding more along the way. A-

Ellery Eskelin/Susan Alcorn/Michael Formanek: Mirage (2011 [2013], Clean Feed): Tenor sax, pedal steel guitar, bass. Main mystery here is Alcorn, who has an album with Dr. Eugene Chadbourne titled An Afternoon in Austin, or Country Music for Harmolodic Souls (Boxholder; I haven't heard it). She's hard to follow here, merging into the bass and rarely coming out. Eskelin responds with ballad volume, but with no one offering him a groove he has to tiptoe around the uncertainty. B+(**)

Lama + Chris Speed: Lamaçal (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Live at Portalegre Jazz Fest, they say "10o edition" but mean 2012. Speed, who should need no intro, plays tenor sax and clarinet. Lama is a trumpet trio led by Susana Santos Silva, with Gonçalo Almeida on bass and Greg Smith on drums, both also dabbling in electronics, and this is their second album. A little slow on the start, but when the horns get working they bounce off one another splendidly. B+(***)

Made to Break: Provoke (2011 [2013], Clean Feed): Ken Vandermark group, with V5 drummer Tim Daisy, Devin Hoff on electric bass, and Christof Lurzmann on "lloopp" -- a free software package for live-improvising on a computer. Three longish (19, 20, 24 minutes) Vandermark pieces, dedications to John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and Marshall McLuhan. The electronics have some difficulty gaining traction, and never amount to more than background, so this reduces to Vandermark's performance: a little screechy on clarinet, but a powerhouse on tenor sax. Group also has a new LP (vinyl only) called Lacerba, which I didn't get. B+(***)

Melodic Art-Tet (1974 [2013], No Business): Quartet, originally formed in 1970 by saxophonist Charles Brackeen and three members of Sun Ra's entourage: Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), Ronnie Boykins (bass), and Roger Blank (drums). They played in lofts, never released an album, but cut this at WKCR in 1974, with a very young William Parker taking over the bass slot, and Tony Waters on percussion. Four pieces (17, 20, 30, 12 minutes), free with funk overtones, the reeds -- flute and soprano as well as tenor sax -- not as clear as you'd like, but Abdullah turns into a force of nature, and the second half is so ship-shape you could sail to Saturn. A-

Zoot Sims: Compatability (1955 [2013], Delmark): Octet session with Hall Daniels (trumpet), Dick Nash (trombone), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Bob Gordon (baritone sax), Tony Rizzi (guitar), Paul Atkerson (piano), Rolly Bundock (bass), and Jack Sperling (drums). Sims is by far the best known here, but was just getting noticed in 1955, and the original 4-track 10-inch LP (tracks 1-4 here) was released as Hal Daniels Septet. In 1977, the same four songs (different takes, but the times are real close) were issued as Zoot Sims/Dick Nash-Ville Octet (tracks 5-10, "Nash-Ville" twice). Ends with three "previously unissued" tracks: studio chatter, the title track (a third time) and "Nash-Ville" (a fourth). B+(*)

Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee: Human Encore (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Trespass Trio is Martin Küchen (alto/baritone sax), Per Zanussi (bass), and Raymond Strid (drums). They're one of several groups I file under Küchen, their two previous albums less successful than the larger Angles. McPhee, a double threat on tenor sax and pocket trumpet -- split here is 5 cuts to 4 -- plays with everyone, often blowing them away. He doesn't do that here, perhaps because Küchen doesn't challenge him; they just negotiate odd angles, as they are wont to do. B+(**)

Els Vandeweyer/Fred Van Hove/Paul Lovens/Martin Blume: Quat: Live at Hasselt (2011 [2013], No Business): Cover lists last names only, and label lists this record as by Quat Quartet, although only "QUAT" ever appears on the package. I added the first names to avoid duplicating the last names here. Credits, respectively, are: vibes, piano, percussion, and percussion. I'd say that makes this the pianist's album, even though the four pieces are joint improvs. Van Hove is an important avant-pianist, his first record dating from 1969 (Requiem for Che Guevara/Psalmus Spei), thirty-some since. Lovens, 12 years younger, has had a comparable career, just shorter (since 1975). Blume is a few years younger, and on a lot fewer albums, and this appears to be the first for Vandemeyer. So much percussion creates a prickly chaotic storm, a whorl of noise that the piano trumps -- most impressive when it's all clashing, less so when Van Hove lays out, or picks up his accordion. B+(***)

Jon Wirtz: Tourist (2013, self-released): Pianist (organ, keyboards), based in Denver, second album. Mixed bag here, some trio, some extra guitar (pedal steel in one case), a spoken word thing, the closer piano with an impassioned trumpet lead (Gabriel Mervine); more semi-pop than post-bop but not necessarily. B

Zs: Grain (2013, Northern Spy): Avant-noise group, originally a trio with saxophonist Sam Hillmer, after a handful of releases (including a 4-CD box as a sextet), now a trio again, with Patrick Higgins (guitar) and Greg Fox (percussion) -- pulled those credits off the website, since the album doesn't say really much of anything. Actually, nearly all of this sounds electronic, and the two parts sound like dozens of pieces -- lots of interesting effects that don't get stuck long enough to become annoying, but that don't quite flow either. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (and today):

  • Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel: San Francisco (Bacalao): July 16
  • Ron Boustead: Mosaic (self-released): September 3
  • Dan DeChellis Trio: Strength and Anger (self-released)
  • Paquito D'Rivera and Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (Sunnyside): July 30
  • Alan Ferber: March Sublime (Sunnyside): July 30
  • Bill Frisell: Big Sur (Okeh)
  • Guillermo Gregorio/Pandelis Karayorgis/Steve Swell Trio: Window and Doorway (Driff)
  • Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet: Circuitous (Driff)
  • Pandelis Karayorgis Trio: Cocoon (Driff)
  • Christian McBride Trio: Out Here (Mack Avenue): advance, July 22
  • Chip Stephens Trio: Relevancy (Capri)
  • Brahja Waldman's Quartet: Cosmic Brahjas (self-released, 2CD)
  • The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy Vol. 2 (Driff)
  • Mike Wofford: It's Personal (Capri)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • The Beautiful South: BBC Sessions (1989-98 [2007], UMVD, 2CD): Live sets, four cuts from 1989 when they were getting started, four more from 1998 showcasing their sixth album, and two much longer 1994 sessions, probably timed for their fourth album and the best-of Carry On Up the Charts; the first simplifies, the latter shows they can stretch out and work the crowd, in between they remind you how many great songs they had, although they also repeat a couple too many times and skip a lot more; if this is all the archaeologists ever find, they'll grade it higher. B+(**) [rhapsody]

Daily Log

Usual Monday Jazz Prospecting post, not up until early evening due to running around. Went to dentist, who refilled my tooth despite not thinking there was much wrong with it. (I thought the filling was gone. He said it was breaking up around the edge, but we both agreed that it should be fixed before it developed a cavity beneath the filling.) Laura went to acupuncture. We picked up dinner at N&J's.

Got my cholesterol drugs, so managed to weather the formulary storm without missing anything. (The samples I've been living on would have run out in a couple days.)

Watched Inspector Lewis and Longmire.

Music today: JP: Gansch & Breinschmid, Jovino Santos Neto; RS: Marshall Chapman, Chandler Travis.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Big event this week was the election of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran, succeeding scarecrow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The arrival of an Axis of Evil leader who apparently isn't evil -- who in fact had attempted to reason with the West before -- threw the hawks in Jerusalem and Washington into a tizzy. First they assured us that the president of Iran has no actual power, so the change of president will leave Iran as evil as ever. And just before the election, Obama suddenly changed course and decided to actively arm Syria's anti-Assad "rebels," a move which (not for the first time) brought us into an alliance with Al-Qaeda. Reason? Because Iran backed Assad, and Iran is out eternal enemy, and we all know that the enemy of our enemy is, well not exactly our friend, but the cheapest, most cost-effective pawn we can rent in the Great Game. (Sure, there was some fluff about Assad using chemical weapons, but what press release escalating a war in the Middle East would be complete without something on WMD?)

Meanwhile, some scattered links:


  • Ramzy Mardini: Bad Idea, Mr. President: A few days before Obama made his Syria announcement, Bill Clinton lectured him publicly, warning that if he fails to intervene in Syria he will be viewed as a "total wuss." I suppose Clinton knows this because he used to be a "wuss" himself, but he reversed himself and bombed Kosovo and thereby came to be recognized as a decisive leader comparable to Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. I'd love to see some polling reflecting that, but Obama took the bait.

    Lacking a grand strategy, Mr. Obama has become a victim of rhetorical entrapment over the course of the Arab Spring -- from calling on foreign leaders to leave (with no plan to forcibly remove them) to publicly drawing red lines on the use of chemical weapons, and then being obliged to fulfill the threat.

    For nearly two years, the Obama administration has described the Syrian regime as having "lost all legitimacy" and "clinging to power." And yet, it has surprisingly endured. That's because neither assertion is really accurate. Mr. Assad still has strong support from many Syrians, including members of the Sunni urban class. While the assistance Syria receives from its external allies, like Iran and Russia, is important, it would be inconsequential if the Assad regime were not backed by a significant portion of the population. [ . . . ]

    The Syrian revolution isn't democratic or secular; the more than 90,000 fatalities are the result of a civil war, not a genocide -- and human rights violations have been committed on both sides.

    Moreover, the rebels don't have the support or trust of a clear majority of the population, and the political opposition is neither credible nor representative. Ethnic cleansing against minorities is more likely to occur under a rebel-led government than under Mr. Assad; likewise, the possibility of chemical weapons' falling into the hands of terrorist groups only grows as the regime weakens.

    And finally, a rebel victory is more likely to destabilize Iraq and Lebanon, and the inevitable disorder of a post-Assad Syria constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the status quo.

    Mardini concludes that Obama "would have been wise to make a forceful diplomatic push first before succumbing to the naïveté of his pro-intervention critics." But he also pointed out that Obama trashed his ability to do anything diplomatic when he gave up any pretense to neutrality and disinterest by publicly insisting that Assad step down.

    Also note: Shamus Cooke: Who Killed the Syrian Peace Talks? He argues that talks instigated by Russia and the US have failed "because the U.S.-backed rebels are boycotting negotiations." I'm not sure if that's all there is to it, but we've seen before -- Kosovo and Darfur are two cases I've heard the same thing about -- that when the US picks sides, that side ups its ante in any negotiations. It is certainly arguable that one reason, besides the repressive nature of the Assad government, Syrian groups turned so quickly from peaceful protests to civil war was their expectation that the US would come to their aid, as had happened in Libya.

  • MJ Rosenberg: To Win UN Job, Samantha Power Begged Forgiveness, Wept, for Criticizing Israel: You may recall that Power got booted from Obama's 2008 campaign for bad-mouthing Hilary Clinton. She did wind up with an under secretary job, under Clinton, and now gets a bump to the UN Ambassador job, but only after taking back every blasphemous thing she's ever said about Israel: specifically a 2002 interview:

    She told an interviewer that she did not believe that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or Palestinian President Yasir Arafat would ever stop the killing on their own and that "external intervention is required." She specifically called on the United States to "put something on the line," by which she meant the "imposition of a solution on unwilling parties." Admitting that the idea of imposing a settlement was "fundamentally undemocratic," she said it was preferable to "deference" to leaders who seem "politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people."

    This was not surprising coming from Power. She is the leading advocate of what is known as "liberal interventionism." She has said that as a child she was shaken by the world's indifference to the Holocaust. Her feelings were deepened by her experiences as a journalist in Bosnia. Ever since, most notably in the case of Libya, Power has recommended "going in" to stop the killing of innocents. Right or wrong, it's who she is.

    Unfortunately for Power, the reality of U.S. politics dictates that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be exempted from rules or theories one applies elsewhere. That is why some of the most aggressively anti-war, pro-human rights progressives in Congress, the media and the blogosphere simply go silent, at best, on the subject of the Israeli occupation or, at worst, openly support military actions like Israel's wars in Gaza. They know that the Israel lobby will make life very difficult for those who insist on applying the same moral yardstick to Israel as to other nations.

    Also see Ed Kilgore: Power and the Neocons: one reason she was able to escape the wrath of the Israel lobby is that the neocons lover her so.

  • Paul Ryan: The Mythical Promise of Obamacare Doomed Me and Mitt Romney: How unfair of the Democrats, promising people that their government would help make their lives better, when we all know that the real function of government is to make you more miserable (unless, that is, you're rich):

    Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan told conservatives Friday that Obamacare helped President Obama defeat Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, decrying the "empty promises" of the law that hadn't yet been implemented.

    "This was our challenge that Mitt Romney and I had in this last election," Ryan said in a speech at the annual Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, DC. "We had to argue against the promise and the rhetoric of President Obama. The great soaring rhetoric, all of the empty promises."

    You might be wondering why the Republicans didn't think of that ("soaring rhetoric/empty promises") themselves. Actually, they did, but couldn't resist attacking Obama even when he adopted their program.

  • Dan Zevin: Hazy With a Chance of Apocalypse: This week's weather forecast. A little far-fetched, I think, especially for Thursday.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Tom Engelhardt: The Making of a Global Security State: Does a nice job of summing up how the NSA revelations fit into the imperial security complex that seems to have become a permanent, unassailable feature of our world.

  • Nicholas Schmiddle: In the Crosshairs: How Chris Kyle became one of America's most proficient killers in Iraq, then brought his gun culture home, parlaying his success into a bestselling memoir, building an empire ranging from training snipers to taking vets on shooting trips to help release stress. Eventually one of the crazed vets he took out shot him. Kyle, of course, was pretty crazed himself, but he hung out with people like the Palins who celebrated that.

Daily Log

Scraped together a Weekend Roundup. Included a preface on Syria, as I still haven't written a real post. No More Mr. Nice Blog had a Syria piece which suggests that only right-wing bloggers are making the Al-Qaeda connection; his one "left" link was a little hard to classify. Liberals who support interventions tend to check their critical faculties at the door, assuming we always start with a clean state and pure intentions, will make smart choices along the way, and never screw anything up. Anti-intervention liberals know those things are untrue, and point them out in various ways. (None have held themselves to just one word, but if they did it would be: "Iraq.") For me, the Al-Qaeda thing is a convenient way to sum up both (a) we have no fucking idea what we're doing, and (b) the only thing certain is that it will come back and bite us on the ass. Doesn't have to be Al-Qaeda. There are plenty more people we've wronged, and who have come to hate us, but take it out in different ways.

Went to Wasabi for sushi. I thought it was better than usual, but Laura complained that all the fish tasted the same -- i.e., tasteless. Watched the basketball game, enjoying San Antonio's win (although I wouldn't say I'm a fan). Watched Mad Men and The Killing. Discovered we missed a whole season of The Borgias, but looks like if we move fast we can catch up with On Demand.

Music today: JP: Melodic Art-Tet, Jon Wirtz, Sophie Agnel.

Need to call dentist tomorrow. Looks/feels like I've lost a filling.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Daily Log

Woke up late but suddenly with another leg cramp. Reading Pamela Olson: Fast Times in Palestine, but haven't finished Avi Raz: The Bride and the Dowry and do still intend to. Got generally favorable feedback on Tarazi piece (Alice, Rannfrid) but it's still stuck in notebook. Stayed home, aside for a walk, short route over Nims and Central bridges. Saw two blue-crowned night herons (nicknamed Harry), first of the year. Watched Ice Age: Continental Drift on TV: one of those animated movies Laura likes but I find cognitively jarring -- this one even more so.

Laura finally decided to go to her high school 50th anniversary reunion. She wants a short trip, two nights, so didn't make any sense for me to suggest driving up there (extra four days travel).

Still intend to write on Syria, but haven't been finding anything to bounce off. Picked up one item for WR tomorrow; should look for more, but caught up Blurt to Metacritic file instead. Also finished my BN Review backlog on Christgau website, and added a MSN piece, so I'm closing in on doing an update: currently one week behind on EW, plus there are bookkeeping tasks.

Music today: JP: Zoot Sims, Made to Break, Lynn Baker, Zs, Quat. RS: Nell Robinson. Week to date is pretty lame.

Wonder if I'll really do this daily?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tarazi

I attended a lecture last night by Father Paul Nadim Tarazi, a professor at Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary (in Crestwood, New York), and author of several books of biblical commentary. One book is called Land and Covenant, which dwells on the assertion, evidently a commonplace among Israelis these days, that God gave the land of Canaan (Palestine) to His Chosen People -- or some such phrasing, the sole purpose to sanctify (and thus obscure) the Zionist seizure of Palestine. The problem with this as a subject is that there is no common ground upon which it can be decided. God isn't a figure with a widely agreed upon historical record, or identity even, let alone authority.

Such assertions, of course, are not uncommon. You often hear someone thanking God for winning a football game, but hardly anyone finds that a convincing explanation much less a righteous judgment. So why bother with this assertion about Eretz Israel? I'm not sure that we should, except inasmuch as the assertion is current and argumentative, as it advances a hostile agenda, and attempts to obscure it. It's like a gang that arms itself and takes over a building. You ask why, and they say: "God gave us this building!" Well, they may or may not actually think that, but why should you believe them?

Tarazi should have been able to say something about the current assertions. He is Palestinian, born in Jaffa, grew up a refugee in Gaza, studied in Romania, wound up in the United States. But his talk never touched the present. His approach to the question of what God gave or promised to whom was to go to the Bible and interrogate the text. But the text, of course, is notoriously muddled, so to divine the answers he not only has to cite texts, he first has to get you in tune with his way of reading them. He has, in short, not only to convince you of his results, he has to sell you on his methods, and that made his talk a lot more complex and convoluted than it should have been, and ultimately he leaves you with a useless answer.

Tarazi's theology is deeply wound up in Eastern Orthodoxy, something I was ill-prepared to understand. (I was raised in a liberal protestant church, Disciples of Christ, about as far removed from orthodoxy as possible, and rather quickly lost my belief and interest in it as well. Tarazi himself seems to be regarded as something of a heretic, which probably complicates things further.) He talked a lot about the need to "hear" the bible, and dismissed mere selective quoting, which could be used to argue anything -- this put him opposite the fundamentalists who insist that every passage is literally true, but it leaves you with the feeling that his own pronouncements are intuitive, even if backed by cycles of argument and his most emphatic voice.

Thus he argues that the Hebrew bible has no word for "land" -- it's all adamah: "ground" or "earth" -- and that it always remains God's, conditionally entrusted to people but always subject to covenant. One might follow from this that even if God did promise Canaan to the Jews, He could just as well (and in fact did) revoke that promise, and go on to argue -- as most orthodox rabbis did before 1948, and some still do today -- that the Zionists usurped God in urging Jews to repopulate and seize Palestine. But he didn't do that, probably because as a Christian he sees the Hebrews as a stepping stone, their status as the first nation chosen to receive God's word superseded by the spread of the word to all nations.

What leaves this impression is that he wasn't trying to find common ground beyond his own religion -- as one might do in arguing that Israel's occupation violates principles of justice shared by most Jews, Christians, Muslims, and atheists. Rather, he was pushing his own religion, because all of his arguments were based on his own peculiar understanding of scripture. So his argument can only convince other people if they are willing to give up their previous faith and identity and convert. That seems pretty useless.

What might have been more useful would be to have an orthodox rabbi explain the argument that Zionists have usurped God's prerogative to decide when to gather in the diaspora. That at least would be a dispute within Judaism rather than a critique from outside, one that could conceivably change minds -- of Jews anyway. Still, the time for the argument over whether Zionism was a good or bad idea has passed: Israel has come to be -- and has done so almost exclusively for reasons that had nothing to do with scripture or theology -- and the pressing issue today is how Israel treats its subjects and neighbors. The great religions have much to say on this subject, as does the large body of law and ethics developed in secular contexts. Moreover, all such sources tend to converge on a common understanding, which is why people of all faiths can find common ground to work together on this issue. But to do so they have to overlook the minutiae that separate themselves -- rather than dwelling on it, as Tarazi did.

Then there are the people of all faiths who fail to see how badly Israel behaves towards its subjects and neighbors. Their problem may be defects in their moral compass, but much more likely it is lack of an adequate set of facts. I can think of several example of the former where it may make sense to delve into theology although I would prefer to rely mostly on common ethics: the desire to reach the "end of times"; the "eye for an eye" idea of justice; the Crusader/Jihadist mentality; the notion of a "chosen people"; and so forth. To be fair, Tarazi did articulate a universal ethics that solves these defects. He just did it within a framework that only his co-believers can appreciate. But those same principles need to be accessible to others without the excess baggage, and that's where his presentation came up short.

Expert Comments

Me:

Recycled Goods, up yesterday, has a short review of "The Rough Guide to African Disco." I was less pleased, mostly because it didn't feel anything like disco to me, and once the organizing concept fails you wind up with the usual continent-wide 30-year-spanning cross-cultural jumble. Couple good things there, but Osibisa -- first African band I seriously listened to -- felt especially clunky. Gave it two plays on Rhapsody (some of which was probably botched). Didn't have the booklet, but backtracked all the songs, and those I identified spread from 1976-2010. Found the Maloko bonus pleasant but slight (same grade).

I went through all the MCA Fela Kuti reissues in 2003 for the Rolling Stone Guide -- my piece is online -- a couple years after Bob did, and I generally graded them a bit higher (especially Original Sufferhead/ITT). I had Expensive Shit/He Miss Road at B+. I remember playing those records nonstop during the countdown to the Iraq "shock & awe" show. Had to break then to write a tirade about "another date that will live in infamy." Now I have to go write about Obama and Syria.

By the way, Jason Gubbels has a nice piece on Scandinavian jazz over at Rhapsody. I clicked on the Jan Garbarek link and there's not much there -- the ECM albums have been pulled -- but I played George Russell's Trip to Prillarguri and was awestruck, not just by Garbarek but also by Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen, and Jon Christensen -- four Russell protégés who remain major figures forty years later.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Recycled Goods (109): June, 2013

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3685 (3241 + 444).

Expert Comments

Mostly draw these from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness blog, but heading works everywhere. Scrounged this recipe from Facebook (thanks to Jan). Have a big bag of frozen cauliflower in the freezer, so maybe this is doable:

Cheesy Cauliflower Patties

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 c panko
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper (more of less to taste)
  • salt
  • olive oil

Cut cauliflower into florets and cook in boiling water until tender about 10 minutes. Drain. Mash the cauliflower while still warm. Stir cheese, eggs, panko, cayenne and salt to taste.

Coat the bottom of a griddle or skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat. Form the cauliflower mixture into patties about 3 inches across. Cook until golden brown and set, about 3 minutes per side. Keep each batch warm in the oven while you cook the rest.

Would be nice to substitute for the panko with something non-gluten.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21522 [21501] rated (+21), 628 [634] unrated (-6).

Depressing, unproductive week, most likely just one of many more to come. I've rarely felt as bedeviled by the bloodsucking capitalists out there, the ethic of "I've got mine and now I want yours too" that leads to a whole world of indifference and rot. Of course, I've had that theoretical analysis for a long time. Just a lot of concrete, personal evidence lately.

Also struggling with chaos and clutter. Recent notable graded jazz releases are accumulating in three stacks that look like they're about to go Pisa on me. Not so notable stuff is overflowing its big box. Papers and crap are everywhere. Books too, and in slightly expanding circles, tools and computers. It's an insane mess to live and try to work in. Makes me think much of it should go, but then I have to think about what I wanted to do with it, and what I reasonable want to do in general.

The website isn't much neater. The book section has gotten me into trouble again, and there is reason to think I should just disconnect it. That would break a lot of blog links, but would be simpler than trying to figure out which parts are likely to offend which writers and lawyers. The links section is a simpler problem, since it's mostly broken anyway. I'm not sure that it even make sense to try to collate a link farm these days. (Well, I can still see some value in it if you had better tools than I in fact do.) Maybe should rethink the whole concept of what I want to make public and keep private, or is there any ground in between? My operating principle has long been that it doesn't matter to me, and that if by making something public makes it useful to someone else, that's a plus. But that assumption is being called into question at all levels (including whatever it is that the NSA is actually doing).

For those and other reasons I'm predicting relatively light blogging for the next month or so as I try to clean up, in my head as much as in my house. Of course, as it heats up outside -- looks like 93F at the moment, possibly the first time it's gotten that hot here all year, but the forecast as far as it goes calls for that and then some -- I may wind up deciding that all I want to do is sit in front of the computer and listen to music.

But I will post June's Recycled Goods sometime this week. It won't be the 1960s special I had promised -- that's more likely in July -- and it will be relatively short with few surprises.

No A-list records below -- the two Clean Feeds came close, and there are more in the queue -- so I'll rerun a pic from an A- jazz record in the most recent Rhapsody Streamnotes.


One bit of non-jazz news: see 4-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Shoots, Kills Army Vet Father in Arizona. A tragedy, but shouldn't the father -- not just an Army Vet but Special Forces -- have had his own gun on hand to defend himself?


David Ake: Bridges (2012 [2013], Posi-Tone): Pianist, teaches at University of Nevada, Reno (or Case Western Reserve, depending on how dated his website is). Has a couple books, at least two previous records including a solo. This is a sextet with three front-line horns -- Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), and Peter Epstein (alto sax) -- plus Scott Colley (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums). All originals, more free than the label's norm, hard to keep so much firepower down. B+(**)

Lotte Anker/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani Faustino: Birthmark (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Danish saxophonist, b. 1958, plays soprano, alto, and tenor here. Has close to a dozen albums since 1997; someone I should look into -- Stef Gijssels had her Live at the Loft as his top album of 2009 -- but this is my first encounter. Pinheiro and Faustino play piano and bass in RED Trio, whose original eponymous 2010 album I can recommend highly. This is softly toned and abstract, the lack of a drummer making it seem like nothing much is happening, but it sneaks up on you, demanding and rewarding your attention. B+(***)

Tony Bennett/Dave Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962 (1962 [2013], Columbia/Legacy): Actually, two separate sets at Sylvan Theatre, near the base of Washington Monument, rather than some cozy confab in the Rose Garden -- you can guess the crowd size from the applause. Brubeck does four cuts starting with "Take Five" and integrating Middle Eastern and Latin rhythms. Bennett then brings his own band in for six songs, ending with an understated "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Nice enough, but very compact: the temptation here is the four extra cuts at the end where Bennett sings with the Brubeck Quartet. Main thing you get there is a lot more bite in the piano -- Brubeck was ready to rumble, and Bennett skates around him, but they didn't figure out anything for Desmond to do. B+(**) [advance]

Joey Calderazzo Trio: Live (2013, Sunnyside): Pianist, has a dozen or so albums since 1991, also notably part of the Branford Marsalis Quartet since 1998. Trio with Orlando Le Fleming and Donald Edwards, a 71:05 set recorded at Daly Jazz in Missoula, MT (no date given). Two originals, covers of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Paul Motian, and "The Meaning of the Blues." B+(*)

Michael Dease: Coming Home (2012 [2013], D Clef): Trombonist, fourth album since 2007; quintet with Steve Wilson (alto sax), Renee Rosnes (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Ulysses Owens, Jr. (drums), plus some guests. Postbop, trombone taking most of the leads, and everything else as full and complex as you'd expect from this band. Dease composed five of eleven tunes, got one each from McBride and Rosnes, and covered Ellington, Peterson, Hubbard, and Jule Styne. B+(*)

Django Festival Allstars: Live at Birdland 2012 (2012 [2013], Three's a Crowd): Dorado Schmitt plays guitar and violin, along with Ludovic Beier (accordion), Pierre Blanchard (violin), lots more guys named Schmitt (all on guitar), a few others you don't know, and Anat Cohen (alto sax), on a mix of Django Reinhardt standards and their own originals in the same vein. B+(**)

The Harris Group: Errands (2013, self-released): Ric Harris, guitarist, second group album, with vibes, bass, and drums for the group proper, violin and flute for extras: effectively, easy groove music with extra tinkles. B-

Yoron Israel & High Standards: Visions: The Music of Stevie Wonder (2013, Ronja Music): Drummer, from Chicago, based in Boston, has a handful of albums since 1995. Group includes Lance Bryant on tenor and soprano sax, Laszlo Gardony on piano and keybs, Henry Lugo on bass, with a couple guest spots including a spoken word rap by Larry Roland. Stevie Wonder songs, something few jazz musicians have made much of, but this is fun all the way through, and Roland adds enough to the title cut that they reprise it. B+(**)

Art Johnson/Marc Devine: Blue Sud (2012 [2013], Warrant Music/ITI): Guitar-piano duets. Johnson was b. 1945, worked in California a long time; not sure how much he's recorded, but he has done piano duets with Dwayne Smith before, and dabbled in Brazilian music. Don't know much about Devine, but he fills in a lot of holes. B-

Roger Kellaway & Eddie Daniels: Duke at the Roadhouse: Live in Santa Fe (2012 [2013], IPO): Pianist, b. 1939, and clarinetist, b. 1941, frequently seen in each other's company of late. James Holland joins in on cello, but only becomes a factor late midway through. Program is mostly Ellington, eight of ten if you count "Perdido," with one original each -- Daniels' is called "Duke at the Roadhouse," Kellaway's "Duke in Ojai." B+(**)

Mark Kleinhaut/Neil Lamb: Jones Street (2011 [2013], Invisible Music): Two guitarists, Kleinhaut with a half-dozen albums since 1999, Lamb with more like four. Back cover says, "greetings from Savannah, Georgia; evidently the home of the title street. Has a delicate, laid-back feel, with a bit more swing than new age allows. B+(**)

Liberation Prophecy: Invisible House (2013, self-released): Group from Louisville, KY; led by saxophonist Jacob Duncan with Carly Johnson ("Our Lady of Song") singing most of the pieces -- their one previous album, 2006's Last Exit Angel, had Norah Jones and Andre Easton singing. Music has bits of avant-jazz and prog-rock -- publicist cites Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa, Carla Bley and Sun Ra -- a mix I can't vouch for. Two spins and the best I can say is that they may turn out to be interesting but it's not obvious why. B

Diane Marino: Loads of Love (2013, M&M): Standards singer-pianist, fifth album since 2003; cover notes "featuring Houston Person," which is about as smart a move as any singer can make, adding a little something to every song he plays on (10 of 12). B+(**)

Eric Revis: City of Asylum (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Bassist, best known as part of Branford Marsalis Quartet since 1997; side credits have mostly been mainstream, but his own albums -- this makes four since 2004 -- have been more avant. This is a piano trio with Kris Davis and Andrew Cyrille. Mostly joint credits, with covers from Monk and Jarrett, and one Revis original. The piano is feisty, slippery, edgy, and the bass is prominent. B+(***)

Julian Shore: Filaments (2012, Tone Rogue): Pianist, second album; all originals, music by Shore and lyrics by singer Alexa Barchini (liner notes includes three lyrics; Barchini sings on six cuts, and Shelly Tzarafi also sings on five). The vocals have a soft, arty feel, and nothing else does much to soften the chill -- horn spots, three guitarists, although Kurt Rosenwinkel makes his presence felt. B

Mary Stallings: But Beautiful (2012 [2013], High Note): Standards singer, b. 1939, cut an album with Cal Tjader in 1961, then nothing until 1990, regular work since. With Eric Reed on piano, sometimes supplemented by Danny Janklow on alto sax and/or Brian Clancy on tenor sax, which helps. A fine singer, but songs like "I Thought About You" make the difference. B+(**)

Marlene VerPlanck: Ballads . . . Mostly (2012 [2013], Audiophile): Standards singer, b. Marlene Pampinella in Newark in 1933; cut an album as Marlene in 1955; nothing else until 1979, but she's recorded regularly since 1989. She built this album around seven arrangements of Cy Coleman songs by her late husband, J. Billy VerPlanck, adding four more songs by Harry Warren, and four more. Cut with two piano trios, adding Claudio Roditi's trumpet on four cuts, and Houston Person's tenor sax on four more. Singer is precise and fluid, no excess mannerisms, and the horns are a plus. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The Aperturistic Trio: Truth and Actuality (Inner Circle Music)
  • Ryan Cohan: The River (Motéma Music): advance, July 9
  • Drye & Drye: Open Letter (NCM East): July 16
  • Vana Gierig: Making Memories (Enja)
  • Alan Jones & François Théberge: Another View (Origin)
  • Chris Morrissey: North Hero (Sunnyside)
  • Bob Mover: My Heart Tells Me (Motema, 2CD)
  • Terje Rypdal: Melodic Warrior (ECM): advance, August 6
  • Kristin Slipp + Dov Manski: A Thousand Julys (Sunnyside)
  • Christian Wallumrød: Outstairs (ECM): advance, August 6
  • Denny Zeitlin: Both/And: Solo Electro-Acoustic Adventures (Sunnyside)


Miscellaneous notes:

  • The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa (2000-12 [2013], World Music Network): B+(**) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to African Disco (1976-2010 [2013], World Music Network): B+(*); Maloko album B+(*) [rhapsody]
  • Wussy: Buckeye (2005-11 [2012], Damnably): A [rhapsody]

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links, but nothing on the NSA scandal yet:


  • Kathleen Geier: A disturbing trend: labor's falling share of GDP, virtually everywhere in the world: A recent ILO (International Labor Organization) report shows a significant drop in labor's share of national income in 26 out of 30 developed countries, from 66.1 to 61.7 percent in 1990-2009.

    It wasn't always this way. As Taylor notes, before the 1980s, labor's share of national income fluctuated somewhat from year to year but tended to be stable overall. Also, during this period, we've seen large surges in productivity -- and yet those productivity gains are not being shared by labor. This is an ominous sign for any society. One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one, from John Maynard Keynes: "Nothing corrupts society more than to disconnect effort and reward." [ . . . ]

    Thus, you had the Great Compression, where wage inequality was kept in check, and the excesses of the previous era's robber barons (and what a wonderful turn of phrase that was!) seemed a thing of the past. Paul Krugman and others have noted that it wasn't market forces or laws against self-dealing or excessive executive compensation that reined in the corporations of yesteryear. It appears to have been "social norms." Or, as I would describe it, a soundly based, and healthy, fear of working class power.

    Gradually, though, that system began to unravel. The trauma of the Great Depression was forgotten. Global competition cut profit margins and the capital class realized they didn't want to be so generous to their workers any more. More to the point, it dawned on them that they didn't have to be. Thus, the neoliberal new world order was born -- not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.

    Beginning in the mid-1970s, there were cuts to social welfare programs in many countries, and there were also a number of important worldwide fights against labor unions, which labor usually lost. In the U.S., the corporate right poured enormous resources into political lobbying efforts and to propaganda shops that massaged public opinion. It worked! It's taken the current years-long depression to finally dislodge some that neoliberal propaganda from a lot of folks' skulls.

    Although this trend is international, David Cay Johnston: Inequality Rising -- All Thanks to Government Policies puts much of the blame on the US government. Nor should this be surprising: starting about 30 years ago, the Democratic Party abandoned its dependence on organized labor and became the pro-business party; meanwhile the Republicans had nowhere to go to outflank them than to become the flat-out anti-labor party. Both stances hurt, and in a two-party system that's what you get.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Charts That Should Revolutionize D.C.'s Fiscal Policy Debate and Why They Won't: First, the charts, which show that projected "Federal budget deficit as a share of GDP" drops in 2014 and remains relatively stable for a decade, as does "publicly held debt as a share of GDP."

    Looking at this, the deficits scolds should at least tone it down a bit, but they haven't: "the political dialogue on the subject doesn't seem to have changed at all." As Yglesias says:

    The dialogue hasn't changed because the elites steering the discourse don't care, even slightly, about deficits or debt.

    What they care about is reducing the federal government's fiscal commitment to bolstering the living standards of elderly people. The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because it's a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money not to work. That's not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It's not a contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It's not a dubious interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That's the point. It's to give people money so they can retire with dignity. "Retire" being a fancy word for "not working." You're never ever going to persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a minimum, if people are hoping to not work, business leaders are going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders) in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public policy.

    My boldface there. I was originally tempted to end the quote there to leave the basic point, but the rest of it is worth saying too -- just don't forget the point in boldface.

    One thing that no one really got into during the depths of the recession was the observation that in a period where the private sector was deleveraging and therefore killing jobs, sensible public policy would have tried to compensate by moving optional workers out of the workforce, so that those remaining would have a better chance of keeping their jobs and wages. One way to do this would be move people into early retirement -- to make Social Security and Medicare and such available to somewhat younger workers if they are willing to retire. Another way would be to make college more attractive -- more scholarships and even stipends to cut down on those part-time jobs that distract students from their studies. And, of course, you could expand public employment, or pump more money into the creation of public goods, including things like art. When you think about it, a lot of this sort of thing was in fact done during the New Deal, but none of it happened during the Great Recession, when politicians -- mostly Republicans but I can't remember many Democrats complaining -- decided that the whole brunt should be shouldered by the working class.


Also, links for further study:

  • David Bromwich: Stay Out of Syria!: No point wishing for a plague on both sides since that plague has already arrived:

    And each day adds a new reminder of the futility of allegedly pragmatic solutions. A Times report on May 15 by Anne Barnard and Hania Mourtada ("An Atrocity in Syria, with No Victim Too Small") told of the sectarian "cleansing" by pro-government forces of Sunni enclaves, in the village of Bayda and the city of Baniyas, both located in a mainly Alawite and Christian province. Three hundred twenty-two corpses have been identified, many of them horribly mutilated. As a pledge of retaliation, a rebel commander filmed himself "cutting out an organ of a dead pro-government fighter, biting it and promising the same fate to Alawites." It is a saccharine optimism that says the country has begun to fall apart and a more "proactive" US could hold it together.

  • Kelefa Sanneh: Paint Bombs: On anthropologist David Graeber, his old book (Debt: The First 5,000 Years) and his new book (The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement), the latter spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement and effectively a history and handbook of same, with various asides into all sorts of anarchist tendencies -- James C. Scott's Two Cheers for Anarchism is another book cited, but Sanneh also talks about Murray Rothbard. Can't say as he does a very good job of clarifying all this, but the last couple lines are worth quoting:

    But in America anarchism's appeal surely has something to do with the seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for us to imagine that we could live without it.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Copyright Intimidation

Got a very rude letter today from T.R. Reid insisting that I was stealing from him by quoting his The Healing of America extensively in my book page. This website is awash with samples of other people's copyrighted work, and someone with his disposition and legal resources could cause me a great deal of pain, possibly even destroying the website. I complied with his demand by removing all quotations from him. It remains to be seen whether that will satisfy him: his letter was crafted to be as intimidating as possible, and he came off as a complete ogre, when what is really at the root of our conflict is a difference in business view: he thinks he can make more money by keeping the book as restricted as possible, where I think the public would be best served by making it more visible.

This may just go away, but if it doesn't I'll need to rethink the whole concept of this website. I've never made a dime off this, and have no stake in continuing. Its visibility was all meant to be a public service, something increasingly unfashionable in this nation, and if that proves to be illegal, I'll have to take it down and start all over. That could in fact be a blessing. As it is, I spend all my time reviewing and hyping other copyright owners, and damn little tending to my own creative work. Maybe it's time to reverse that.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Thinking Around the Israeli-American Impasse

Back in 2005, I wrote a modest proposal for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. I mailed it out to a bunch of people -- an example of "running it up the flagpole to see who salutes it" -- and it was uniformly ignored. The distinct feature of my piece was a mechanism that would allow Israel to keep all of the East Jerusalem environs they annexed in 1967. My argument was that if a majority of the Palestinians in the new territory voted to approve joining Israel, and annexation could be separated from the UN's 1967 assertion of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."

Jerusalem was one of the major sticking points in the "final status" negotiations under Barak in 2000. Even though there was at the time substantial support within Israel for a "two-state solution" that would give up settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, every opinion poll of Israelis that I was aware of showed more than 90% refusing to return East Jerusalem. The equation on annexation for Israel has always been the trade-off between land, which Israel coveted, and people, which Israel feared and loathed. The alternative to the "two-state solution" would be for Israel to extend citizenship and equal rights to all of the people in the Occupied Territories -- a scheme that has become increasingly attractive as expanding Israeli settlements (those "facts on the ground") have made it ever harder, both politically and practically, to disentangle two states. However, Israel has always rejected such a "one-state solution" out of hand, for fear that its demography would tip against a Jewish majority.

However, I figured that the relatively small number of non-Jews in Greater Jerusalem, balanced against Israel's intense desire to keep the land, would be a trade-off that Israel might accept. I also figured that requiring approval of that non-Jewish population would do two things: it would justify annexation under self-determination, grounds that no one could reasonably object to; and it would urge Israel to campaign for the allegiance of a block of Palestinians. Given Israel's past treatment, one would initially expect the latter to reject such an offer, but Israel could offer much in the way of inducements to win the vote, including reforms that would help make Palestinians more welcome as Israeli citizens -- reforms that in general would help to lessen the conflict.

Like I said, my proposal went nowhere. By that time, the Arab League was floating a proposal that called for a full return to the 1967 borders (per UN SCR 242 and 338), albeit with no serious repatriation of pre-1948 refugees. The US was pushing a non-plan called "The Road Map for Peace," which was rejected by Israel, as was every other initiative. There have been proposals by ad hoc groups of Israelis (e.g., the Geneva Accords, the Israeli Peace Initiative of 2011), the coalitions running Israel, both under Kadima and Likud prime ministers, appear to have no interest whatsoever in ever solving anything. The problem isn't even that they have a proposal that Palestinians can never accept. It's that they prefer the status quo, where they face just enough danger to keep their security state sharp, where the settlement project continues to fire their pioneer spirit, and where their low standing in world opinion reinforces the Zionist conceit that the whole world is out to get them -- a unifying narrative with little downside risk, least of all to their standard of living.


I bring this up because I see now that John Kerry is trying to restart some sort of "peace process." Stephen M. Walt writes:

News reports suggest that Kerry is trying to advance this goal by employing a time-honored tool of Middle East diplomacy: bribery. No, I don't mean direct under-the-table payoffs to key leaders (although the United States has done plenty of that in the past and I wouldn't rule it out here). Instead, I mean offering the various parties big economic incentives to lure them back to the table. Back in the 1970s, for example, Henry Kissinger got Israel to withdraw from the Sinai by promising it enormous military aid packages and assorted other concessions. Jimmy Carter did the same thing when he brokered that Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, and U.S. largesse also greased the subsequent peace deal between Israel and Jordan in 1994. When domestic politics make it impossible to use sticks, carrots are all you have left.

This time around, Kerry has reportedly assembled a $4 billion investment package for the Palestinian Authority, designed to improve economic conditions in the West Bank and demonstrate to the Palestinians the benefits of peace. Presumably all they need to do is agree to resume negotiations and the money will flow; the investment is supposedly not linked to a final-status agreement. This approach is also a familiar American tendency at work: The United States is happy if the parties are talking, even if they are simultaneously taking steps that are "not helpful" and if they never get to the finish line.

The real question is: Should Abbas & Co. take the money and resume discussions?

Of course they should, but not because it will produce an agreement. Any talks that do resume are going to lead nowhere, and the Palestinians might as well get paid for engaging in an otherwise meaningless activity. The talks are meaningless because Israel is not going to agree to a viable Palestinian state, and certainly not one based on the 1967 borders. Remember that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's entire career has been based on opposition to a Palestinian state and that the official platform of his Likud party "flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." Netanyahu is under no domestic pressure to cut a deal either; on the contrary, he'd be in political hot water if he tried.

Ever since the Oslo Accords, the basic Israeli strategy has been to negotiate endlessly while continuing to expand settlements, with the number of settlers more than doubling since 1993. Even then Prime Minister Ehud Barak's supposedly "generous" offer at Camp David in 2000 fell well short of an acceptable deal, as his own foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, later acknowledged. Netanyahu now leads the most right-wing government in Israel's history, and his government would collapse if he were to agree to allow the Palestinians anything more than a handful of disconnected bantustans under complete Israeli control. That's why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been reluctant to resume the negotiations; he knows that talks merely provide a cover for further colonization.

But acknowledging that reality could also be liberating. Given that negotiations are pointless and that more and more people know it, the Palestinians should simply take the money that Kerry has assembled and agree to the charade, while making it clear that they will not settle for less than the Clinton parameters. They can also hint that if a viable and sovereign state is not in the cards, then they will begin to campaign for full civil and political rights within the "Greater Israel" that now exists.

Walt is unsure why Kerry is even bothering, but the US has long had interests in the Middle East beyond Israel, and they demand a certain facade of balance. On the other hand, the Saudis (in particular) don't seem to be very demanding of results, much like they buy sophisticated American aircraft then never really learn to use it. Rashid Khalidi's Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East details how the US initiated three major attempts at "peace process" in Israel-Palestine, then bowed to Israeli pressure (or in some cases just anticipated it) to get nothing accomplished. Kerry is most likely to just add another chapter of failure.

Khalidi has a good description of how this works (pp. 119-120):

Over a period of more than sixty years, beginning in fact many decades before our starting point of 1978, and before even the occupation of 1967, Israel has created for the Palestinian people a unique and exquisitely refined system of exclusion, expropriation, confinement, and denial. Above all, this system is buttressed by a robust denial that any of this is happening or has ever happened. In some ways this denial is the worst part of the system, constituting a form of collective psychological torture. Thus some deny that there is any such thing as an "occupation." Others refuse to call the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem the "occupied territories"; they are instead referred to as "the administered territories," or "the territories," or worse, "Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza district," as Begin and his acolytes put it. Arab East Jerusalem is not Arab, it is not "occupied," and it has not been conquered: it has been "reunited." Jerusalem is not a city that has been a center of Arab and Muslim life for nearly fourteen hundred years: it is the "eternal, indivisible capital of Israel," not only now and forever into the future, but also at every moment in the past, back to the dim mists before recorded history. The Palestinians were never expelled from their homeland. A nomadic people without roots in the land, they simply wandered off, or left because their leaders told them to. Violence employed by Palestinians is "terrorism"; violence employed by Israel, usually producing approximately ten times the casualties, is "self-defense." There is a "peace process." One could go on and on with equally grotesque examples of such Orwellian newspeak, which effectively constitutes a tissue of falsehoods, an enormous web of denial.

Israel has not only worked tirelessly to create "facts on the ground" that dim the prospects of peace. Israelis have also created a mental clutter of catch phrases and jargon that make peace impossible to talk about.


I'll break this post here, and put a first draft of my thinking about how to resolve the conflict after the break . . .


As the years went by, I kept trying to "think outside the box" and come up with some kind of solution. What kind matters little to me, other than that it be something most people on both sides might find agreeable, and something that will lead to less conflict in the future. For instance, the Clinton Parameters of 2000, the Arab League Proposal of 2002, the Geneva Accords of 2003, the [unofficial] Israeli Peace Proposal of 2011, and everything Mahmoud Abbas has proposed: any of those work for me, but Israel won't agree to anything like them without the US exerting a huge amount of pressure, and no US politician will do that. So the only way to break this logjam is to move to something that Israel might accept, and to line up pressure and inducements to nudge Israel over the line. That undoubtedly leaves you with something unfair and unpalatable to most Palestinians -- as indeed my 2005 punt on Jerusalem was. Still, I think there is a way out. I've had the idea of a long essay about this kicking about in my head for a while now. The rest of this post is a brief introduction.

The Oslo "final status" negotiations in 2000 foundered on several "intractable" issues: refugees, borders (including Jerusalem), and Israel's "security" concerns -- a set of issues that mostly came down to Israel reserving various aspects of sovereignty that prevented the creation of a truly independent Palestinian state (air space, ocean access, armed forces levels and armaments, etc.). I think we can work around these issues.

Two key things have to be understood. The first is that the Zionist movement has won: Israel, against long odds, exists as a Jewish State and is stable and secure for as far as one can imagine into the future, and they've accomplished this largely on their own, following an often brutal strategy that has generated much enmity but no serious risks or threats. (Sure, they make much ado about Iran's "nuclear programme," but surely they understand that they could turn Iran into a wasteland many times over, and that Iran would never risk that. And they moan inconsolably about the threat of rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas, but they've tested both in war and found them inconsequential.) One thing this means is that there's no way to force or pressure them into any agreement that runs counter to their core beliefs and concerns.

On the other hand, the Palestinians have no leverage other than to withhold their surrender, and to insist that their basic human rights be respected. The second key point is that they are right to do so, and any proposal that doesn't respect the basic rights of all cannot solve anything. The notion that Israel has triumphed isn't new or all that controversial: Egypt gave up its opposition in 1977 to get the Sinai back, and had offered peace several times before, under Nasser as well as Sadat. No other Arab state has seriously challenged Israel since the 1973 war, even though Israel has felt free to bomb Iraq (in 1981), invade Lebanon (1982, again in 2006), and repeatedly attack Syria. The PLO adjusted its ambitions over the 1980s, ultimately surrendering way too much for its subordinate role in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas, too, has come to accept the long-term existence of Israel. There still are a few isolated groups holding onto the notion that they can ultimately forcibly reject Israel (maybe Islamic Jihad, certainly Al-Qaeda) but they are marginal -- murderous but ineffective.

So let's apply these two key points to the refugee situation. From 1947-50, more than 700,000 people (mostly Palestinian Arabs, about half of the non-Jewish prewar Palestinian population) left their homes -- most fled, but some were driven out by Israeli forces. The UN, which managed "temporary" refugee camps, passed a resolution requiring Israel to either accept the return of the refugees or compensate them for their property losses. But Israel, having achieved their long sought-after Jewish majority, refused to allow any refugees to return, while the refugees declined to accept compensation and give up their right of return. Another 200,000 refugees left after the 1967 war. The refugee population has since grown to about five million, and many (especially in Lebanon) have been unable to secure citizenship elsewhere.

The Zionist movement was built on the assumption that Jews could wrest control of Palestine from its pre-existing population, the key insight the need to establish a Jewish majority. This is so deeply ingrained that there is no chance that Israel will open its borders for non-Jews. Indeed, their entire history since 1950 shows that they'd rather continue hostilities than risk return of their refugees. So forget about any "right of return." Nor does the notion that Palestinian refugees can "return" to a rump Palestinian state offer a viable solution: the West Bank and especially Gaza lack the resources to absorb even a fraction of the five million Palestinian refugees. The only thing to do is resettle the refugees, making sure they have citizenship, full rights, and a viable work path wherever they go. This will take money, and the more money the better. So the first thing the international community should do in order to resolve this conflict is build a bank. This is just one of many areas where it may be easier to solve the conflict by monetizing it.

Israel should, of course, pay for much of the cost of resettling the refugees, but one cannot force it to do so. Indeed, as history has shown, they'd rather prolong the conflict than face peace, let alone pay for the damages they have inflicted. So the money is going to have to come from elsewhere, from countries all around the world in recognition of how much continuation of this conflict hurts us all -- but perhaps most of all the US, Europe, and the petro-states of the Middle East.

It should also be recognized that the refugee population isn't fully established. However the "borders" question is dealt with will surely generate more refugees. The Occupied Territories currently house almost two million of the nearly five million UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees. Regardless of the "borders" outcome, they should have the option of resettling, and one can make a good case that the right should be generalized to all Palestinians. I would go further and establish a "right to exile" which while generally individual could apply to the whole classes of Palestinians and Jews, based on long-term historic mistreatment. (Israel's "Law of Return" has the same practical effect for Jews, except that to take advantage of it a Jew has to immigrate to Israel. Israel may indeed be the preferred destination for most Jews, but it would be better for the Jews -- if not necessarily for Israel -- to have more options to pick and choose from.)

As for borders, they can (and will) be determined by Israel alone, subject to nothing more than the sense that the US and other countries have of their legitimacy, and the de facto occupation of the land by its people. In the former case, even though Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, they have remained subjects of negotiation, at least through 2000 when Ehud Barak was working on deals with Syria and the PA. The latter case cuts both ways: it is hard (but by no means impossible) to dislodge Israeli settlers, as it is hard to uproot Palestinian villagers.

What I propose doing on borders is to set up a series of trade-offs then let Israel decide what it wants to keep and what it's willing to give up. The first tradeoff is that any land it keeps comes with the people living on it, who have to be accorded citizenship with full and equal rights. The second is that there is a cost associated with each parcel of land. The idea here is that it is inadmissible to seize land by force, but it would be OK to pay a fair price for it. The prices would be set through some sort of appraisal process. (This isn't title to the land, which stays with its current owners, but a "sovereignty right" which changes the nationality of the land.) There may also be "zoning concerns": for instance, you can't carve up the land in a way that isolates it from the rest of the Palestinian territory; and you can't carve up the land in a way that denies it water resources. The funds used to buy Palestinian land would go into the bank, earmarked for Palestinian economic development. (Israel could use this same process to buy some or all of the Golan Heights, in which case the funds would go to Syria.)

The assumption here is that Israel will not wish to keep Gaza, so a minimal Palestinian state can be established there practically at once. Decisions on the West Bank and Jerusalem need not be made all at once, although an indecision penalty could be tacked on to try to move things along. Also, withdrawal from settlements could be encouraged by tying each one to a future commitment and providing a rent payment for the time Israel retains the settlement. Terms for withdrawal could allow as much as 30 years. (Give the market some time to adjust real estate values.) The future Palestinian state should allow Jewish settlers to stay on in their houses -- although they could also be treated as refugees if they aren't comfortable staying on -- as citizens, subject to the same laws as everyone else. (I would also recommend that Palestine allow Jewish immigration, even reproducing Israel's "Law of Return," and offer Hebrew as an official language. A Zionist movement is never going to overwhelm Gaza and the West Bank, and doing so would set a better example for Israel.)

Israel has never had a serious discussion about what its goals are in the West Bank, and this would force the issue: they would either wind up with less territory or more non-Jews, a choice they've artfully evaded for 45 years by posing to negotiate then not doing so. Aside from Gaza, it's doubtful they'll leave the Palestinians much, but either way it ends the uncertainty and should clear up the development task. There is little we can do to ensure fair and equitable treatment of Palestinians who under this plan become Israeli citizens, but their increasing numbers should give them more of a stake in the country, and it should help to be integrated into a prosperous economy. As for the lands freed up by Israel, it is critical that Israel have no say in how they are to be run. Israel's only legitimate concern is for its own security, but that's the one area that's easiest to fix.

An independent Palestinian state could at worst be no more of a threat to Israel than any other independent Arab state in the region, and would probably be much less. Actually, we've already proven this: Hamas-controlled Gaza has managed a number of lengthy cease-fires over the last three years which have only been broken in reaction to Israeli attacks and/or blockades. Freeing Gaza from Israeli interference would eliminate the rationale for the rocket attacks, which have never produced much damage anyway.

An independent Palestinian state with unregulated trade could arm itself with weapons that could inflict serious damage, but doing so would risk far worse retaliation, and in an arms race the Palestinians are at a huge disadvantage. The best would be not to compete at all: to limit its security forces to what is necessary to police its own fringe groups, and to appeal to world opinion to restrain Israel. As always, it would be best to set up international structures to referee complaints from both sides. (Needless to say, Palestinians have as much to fear from Israeli terrorists as Israel has to fear from Palestinians -- the Baruch Goldstein incident being the most notorious example.) Again, it would help to monetize the damages, penalizing the Palestinians for actions of their people and the Israelis for actions of their own -- the penalties higher where the guilty parties are not punished. In effect, the bank would provide terrorism insurance to both parties.

The numerous other items on Israel's security laundry list are mostly unnecessary intrusions on Palestinian sovereignty -- and given the long, damaging history of intrusion should be avoided. Palestine should be able to trade what it wants with whoever it wants, just as Israel can. There may be practical considerations where joint efforts should be established, such as in air traffic management, but in principle each country manages its own air space.

Similarly, neither country should interfere with the internal affairs of the other. The frequent Israeli demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish State" is especially ridiculous: the status of Judaism within Israel is of no concern to Palestine, nor is the status of Islam or Christianity or Voodoo in Palestine to Israel. Both states should have regular relations with the other, but can regulate imports of travel and trade as they see fit. If they choose, they may have arrangements for extradition, but only by mutual agreement.

While we wish to do everything possible to free Palestine from Israel's overview, the international community may insist on some form of oversight limiting Palestine. This is to assure contributors to the bank that Palestine will be run competently. This may include assurances of honest elections, government transparency, and individual freedoms, and may include setting up a system for auditing expenses and for prosecuting corruption. (Some comparable accountability may be demanded of Israel, although it should be noted that Israel has a lot of practice prosecuting corrupt politicians.)

No one is likely to be satisfied by these proposals. Palestinians have always been behind the "facts on the ground" in terms of what they were sought. Before Israel's independence, they rejected the UN Partition Plan. After the armistices ending the 1948 War they started to like the Partition Plan but not the armistice borders (the "green line"). After 1967, the Green Line gradually became acceptable, ultimately being endorsed in the 2002 Arab League Plan. On the other hand, there's little reason to think that Israel has ever been sincere even about its own proposals. They've never been satisfied with their borders: ignoring the UN Partition Plan to expand their territory, decrying the results as "Auschwitz Borders," with Begin and Shamir insisting that the East Bank of the Jordan should be theirs too, while Ben Gurion coveted Lebanon south of the Litani River.

Similarly, both sides have had excessive ambitions for Jerusalem -- the "eternal, indivisible capitol of Israel" and "the third holiest city in Islam." The one thing Israel does appear to be willing to do is to cede everyday control over the Haram al-Sharif to the Jordanian waqf which has managed it since 1948, and that appears to me to be a better choice than saddling a Palestinian state with religious responsibilities.

So in some ways what I'm proposing would seem to the solution Israel would dictate if it could, there is no reason to think that Israel would embrace this readily. For one thing, they'd rather keep the future open, in case they can improve on it; for another, they depend on the conflict to maintain Zionist unity, and don't know what they'd do without it. Peace would undermine the deepest of Zionist beliefs: that the whole world is inexorably anti-semitic and therefore bent on their destruction. It would also end the need for Israel to run a universal draft that binds most of its population to the military from ages 19 to 60 -- a degree of militarism far in excess of any other nation. Peace should ultimately result in huge savings for Israel, but a big chunk of their costs are defrayed by the US, and that aid, and the arms industry it supports, would also be at risk.

Besides, Israel already controls all the land they would keep in this plan (plus some), and they exert an extraordinary degree of domination over Palestinians, a sense of superiority they take great pride in. Moreover, they seem to be largely oblivious to the other nations, including their great ally, the United States. So it will take some pressure as well as the attraction of money to bring Israel to accept even this favorable a solution.

But the roots of that pressure are building as it becomes ever more clear that Israel has gone beyond its own legitimate concerns to oppress and degrade the Palestinians, and to provoke hostility in the region. Gaza is perhaps the clearest case: with no Israeli settlements there, what possible excuse does Israel have to patrol the skies and seas and try to choke off the borders, not to mention periodically raining down death and destruction? A few small rockets and some words in the Hamas charter? That's pretty trivial compared to the 1,417 Palestinians killed (5,303 wounded) in Israel's 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, their three week assault on Gaza.

There is no guarantee that Palestinians would approve of what I've outlined above, but they don't especially have to. As much as possible I've designed this as a series of acts that can be taken piecemeal, without any need for any sort of "grand bargain" on a "final status." Meanwhile, the Palestinian position turns out to be almost exactly what is mandated by international law. The Green Line borders are recognized, but the extra territory that Israel seized in the 1967 war and has occupied since then cannot be kept by Israel -- not even the old Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem -- and the Israeli effort to colonize that territory is illegal. And the refugees from as far back as the 1948 War have the right to return to their homes in what is now Israel, or (if they, not Israel, chooses) to be compensated for their losses. There even used to be a time when the United States government recognized exactly this understanding of international law -- that later presidents, especially Bush and Obama, have wavered parallels America's own increasing disregard and contempt for international law, something anyone concerned with world peace should find seriously troubling.

So one way to put pressure on Israel to accept peace is to start taking international law seriously. Israel's violations of international law go far beyond military occupation and building of settlements: it includes acts of war, assassinations, arming of foreign groups, as well as the whole gamut of occupation tactics. Another way is to put economic pressure on Israel with "boycott, divestment, and sanctions" -- a movement currently limited to ad hoc group, which more than its direct impact reminds one of the shame of South Africa's apartheid policies, and the efforts that helped peacefully them.

The point I'm driving at here is that Kerry is barking up the wrong tree in trying to bribe the Palestinians to waste their time letting Netanyahu string them along. For peace to be possible, the first thing that must happen is for Israel to get on board and offer proposals that respect and advance the basic rights that all people everywhere expect. Beyond that the details can be worked out and implemented piecemeal, adding up as we go along.


I've been thinking about the above for the better part of the last year, wanting to put down a detailed and cogent argument in the form of a publishable essay. What I just wrote is more like a one-pass brain dump of the essential conclusions without all the steps along the way. To understand Israel requires several significant mental leaps. For one thing, you have to put it into the context of comparative white settler projects. It turns out that those were all determined by demographic balance: in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the natives were overwhelmed and lost. In South Africa and in Algeria the settlers failed to establish a majority and ultimately lost -- in Algeria, forcing a French retreat; in South Africa resulting in an accommodation where the whites lost their political power but maintained their economic dominance. Israel had several disadvantages: the movement started late; the "natives" were relatively sophisticated, aware of the threats and challenges at an early date; the assumptions behind Zionism precluded any sort of compromise. That Israel succeeded to the extent that it did has been a remarkable feat, involving both exceptional leaders and an extraordinary degree of collective will.

Even so, what made Israel successful makes it fragile today. The early threat to the Zionist project was rejection. The longer term problem is delegitimization, which the United States and others avoided by liberalizing: finding ways for "natives" to equably participate in the dominant society. This is much harder for Israel, most obviously because they don't have the enormous demographic advantage of other successful white settler states, but also because they are much more tightly bound to a restrictive identity than Americans or Australians ever were, because this struggle is so recent, and there are more refugees than likely potential Jewish immigrants.

There are, of course, Israelis who think that all they have to do to survive, and indeed to thrive, is keep doing what they've done along: keep the Palestinians down, keep their "iron wall" towering. This leads them to invent crises that are little more than projections of their own fears: they worry about Hezbollah having rockets even though they have effective defenses and way more deterrence then they need; they worry about Syria obtaining new anti-aircraft weapons even though they're purely defensive and have never stopped Israel from bombing Syria any time it wanted; most of all they worry about Iran's phantom nuclear program even though the Islamic Republic was an ally of Israel all through its war with Iraq and has never shown any evidence of anti-semitism against its own Jewish population.

Before 1948 Arabs feared Israeli power, and after 1948 they resented it, but over time they got used to it, and the will to fight it faded -- except, that is, when Israel rubs one's face in it. The Palestinian intifadas weren't delayed reactions to 1948 or 1967 but to the everyday hassle of living under Israel's thumb without rights or recourse, in an economy and society that is set up exclusively for someone else's benefit. Unless someone intervenes to break that cycle, it will continue indefinitely, and even though Israel may never "lose," the effort it takes to continue their dominance over the Palestinians takes its toll.

It is particularly difficult to propose that the US take a lead role in bringing this conflict to an end, because the US has taken such a brazenly partisan role in supporting whatever the leading clique of Israeli politicians think best. However, it has to start here, if for no other reason than that otherwise the US and Israel reinforce each other's worst instincts. (On the US side, see the neocons, whose core ideas about US intervention in the Middle East are based on Israeli models, even when they are not directly in service to Israeli interests.) One can try to challenge US partisanship, but what may be more effective is to dress up the peace proposals as something essential for Israel's long-term security. Every other white settler movement has had to liberalize its treatment of "natives" in order to stabilize its success, and the same is true for Israel: their security depends the acceptance of those who might otherwise reject and revolt against Israel, and that ultimately depends on a sense that Israel's power stands for rather than against justice.

One way to illustrate this might be a thought experiment: imagine what would happen if the United States treated its Native American population the same way Israel treats Palestinians: if, say, we built "security fences" around the reservations, often nudging them in to grab a little land; if we required arbitrary permits for building; if we set up checkpoints to restrict travel; if we allowed settlers to further encroach on their lands, and had a two-tiered system of justice that allowed settlers to get away with violence, while Native Americans could be rounded up arbitrarily and held without charge; if we periodically blew up their buildings and assassinated their leaders. If we did that, we wouldn't be surprised to see some of that violence blow back our way. But we don't do that. We've moved on since the Indian Wars ended in the 1880s, and they've moved on. The current state isn't ideal, especially for Native Americans, but we understand that more force, and they understand that more violence, won't solve anything.

The Israelis are too close to the conflict, are too wrapped up in its violence, to let go easily. They need help, and so do the Palestinians, and all things considered the world owes it to them. And we owe it to ourselves, too. In 1947, the British, having bungled every which way their "stewardship" of the League of Nations mandate for Palestine, dumped the problem on the United Nations, which for all sorts of reasons failed to handle it. Perhaps by finally fixing this failure we can revisit the early idealism behind the UN and the idea that the world's conflicts can be solved through worldwide cooperation.


Expert Comments

Wrote the following letter to the PSG list about the above piece:

I wrote the following post over the past week, although it reflects a lot of thinking and research over the past year -- the Walt piece was just an excuse to break the dam and let it all flow out. At some point I would like to expand this into a properly structured essay, especially if I can find a publisher which would give it more of an air of seriousness than my own blog seems to command:

Thinking Around the Israeli-American Impasse

Would appreciate any comments and suggestions, especially if anything is not completely clear.

By the way, currently reading Ari Raz's The Bride & the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War, which explores much of the debate within Israel's power structure over what to do with the "dowry" (the land they coveted so) and the "bride" (the Palestinians they "don't much like" -- the metaphor and quotes come from PM Levi Eshkol). I think the upshot is that the Israelis were never serious about "land for peace" or giving up land for anything else, although they found it convenient to tell the world, especially the Americans, and sometimes even themselves, something different.

Also recently read (and quoted in the post) Rashid Khalidi's Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, which details how Israel was able to defeat US peace initiatives under Reagan, Bush I, and Obama, not least because the US was always more sensitive to Israeli feelings and concerns than they were interested in peace.

Also read Amy Dockser Marcus's Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which sees Arthur Ruppin's 1913 speech to the Zionist convention in Vienna, where he emphasized the need to build a Jewish majority in Palestine, as pivotal. Something else she discusses, perhaps even more important, was the decision to adopt Hebrew, which was taken to unify the Jewish population and separate them from the Arabic-speaking majority. Also evident by 1913 was the push for "Hebrew Labor" -- which would economically isolate the Palestinians from the Zionists, ensuring that Herzl's propaganda of Zionist industry raising living standards of all would remain nothing but sheer fantasy.

Village Voice: David Thorpe: The Best Best Male Rappers of All Time:

  1. Run DMC
  2. Dr. Dre
  3. Notorious B.I.G.
  4. LL Cool J
  5. 2Pac
  6. Eminem
  7. Nas
  8. Macklemore
  9. 50 Cent
  10. Ice Cube

Not sure which is more laughable: not including Jay Z anywhere, or including Dr. Dre anywhere.

The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time:

  1. Nas: Illmatic (1994)
  2. The Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (1994)
  3. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)
  4. Eric B & Rakim: Paid in Full (1987)
  5. Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
  6. The Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
  7. A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory (1991)
  8. Cam'ron: Purple Haze (2004)
  9. Jay Z: The Blueprint (2001)
  10. GZA: Liquid Swords (1995)
  11. Ghostface Killah: Supreme Clientele (2000)
  12. Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique (1989)
  13. Jay Z: Reasonable Doubt (1996)
  14. De La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
  15. EPMD: Strictly Business (1988)
  16. The Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill (1986)
  17. Slick Rick: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988)
  18. Run-DMC: Raising Hell (1986)
  19. LL Cool J: Radio (1985)
  20. 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003)

That's it: nothing since 2004, 4 more this century, 7 in the 1990s, 9 in the Golden Age (1980s), no Grandmaster Flash.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Kansas Flies Business Class

A piece in the Wichita Eagle today -- Dan Voorhis: Businesses will benefit from several recent laws enacted in Kansas -- points out that the Kansas state legislature hasn't only been up to complete lunacy this session. Sure, they've passed new anti-abortion and pro-gun laws that are blatantly unconstitutional, and they've cut income taxes -- exempting "small businessmen" like the Koch brothers altogether -- while raising sales taxes. But they've also been minding business:

Also, in bill after bill, the Legislature strengthened the hand of employers, especially in their dealings with employees.

  • SB149 mandates drug screening of Unemployment Insurance claimants as well as those receiving other cash assistance from the state. A first screening failure results in treatment; a second failure means a loss of benefits.
  • SB187 expands the nominating board for Workers Compensation appeals judges. Previously, board nominations were split between the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Now the board will be expanded to more groups, including more employer-related groups. It increased judges' pay in an attempt to attract higher-quality candidates. It also shortens the time to file a claim from 30 to 20 days for an employee or from 20 to 10 days for someone who has left employment.
  • HB2069 banned the ability of local governments to mandate that workers be paid prevailing wage rates on construction projects using public dollars. The Unified Government of Kansas City/Wyandotte County was the only local government to have such a mandate.
  • HB2022 banned public sector unions from automatically deducting member dues for political activities. It also gives employers a stronger ability to withhold pay, such as to replace uniforms or repay loans.
  • HB2105 strengthened employers' legal grounds for denying a worker unemployment insurance. It also re-wrote the formula for employers' contributions to the unemployment insurance pool to increase the amounts paid by employers who have more layoffs.

Voorhis didn't mention the biggest giveaway, which was a bill that ended regulation of the phone monopoly, AT&T, but then he wasn't really reporting -- he was just echoing what the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce lobbyist was bragging about.

Reminds me why I left Kansas in the first place. It was 1974 and I was working in a type shop downtown. I had gotten a series of small raises early on as the owner noticed how much work I was producing, but he developed eye problems, leaving his idiot son in charge of the company, who did nothing. After a long stretch, I went to him and asked for a raise. He told me that my salary was already the maximum the market could bear in Wichita. He did feign sympathy, however, suggesting that if I really did need to make more money, I should move to a higher wage market, like . . . Tulsa, Oklahoma! I quit shortly after that -- at which point they did offer me a much more substantial raise than I had asked for -- and moved to New York City.

Twenty-five years later I moved back to Wichita, bringing a telecommuting job with me. When that ran out, I looked around a bit, encountering the same lame-brained mentality from business owners I had originally fled. One job prospect offered $12/hour to design and build database-driven websites for a client based in China -- yes, outsourcing their IT work to Kansas.

The one thing that Kansas doesn't need is more leverage for business owners to drive wages down. It depresses the economy, and is depressing for everyone involved, leaving everyone in a state of mental disability.

The biggest political difference between the New Deal and now is the amount of effort Roosevelt put into fighting deflation: both in keeping prices from collapsing and in increasing wages, even going so far as to promote unions. Obama has done none of that, letting wages sink while monopoly rents skyrocket. And if Obama and the Democrats won't fight for you, numbskulls like the Chamber of Commerce get a free ride.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21501 [21466] rated (+35), 634 [630] unrated (+4).

Got a lot of mail, including the Clean Feed package from Portugal, so looking forward to that. Meanwhile, picked through what I had almost at random, winding up with a lot of B+(*) albums -- 13 of 20. Each has something distinctive on top of consistent quality, but not something I found all that interesting. That grade is probably the norm for jazz these days. There's certainly a lot of it.

Saw the movie 42 this afternoon. I knew the Jackie Robinson story from many sources, notably Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, and Red Barber's memoir, 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball, but alas nothing much firsthand: Robinson's rookie year was three years before I was born, and he retired the year before the first season I can recall with any immediate authority. The movie made one major error: the Dodgers held their 1947 spring training in Havana, Cuba, and not in Panama. The event barely mattered in the movie -- at least we didn't have to suffer while Rickey was playing his great game, waiting for the team to pressure him to advance Robinson -- making the change all the more puzzling. They did get the trade record right -- I thought that Walker, Higbe, and Casey were moved out earlier than they were. (Walker actually had a pretty good year in 1947, and a strong start with Pittsburgh in 1948 before he collapsed. On the other hand, even before Robinson Rickey rarely waited until an older player was done before he traded them off -- wouldn't have been worth as much.)

But the movie didn't mention Rickey's 1948 trade of Eddie Stanky, who appears as one of Robinson's earliest and staunchest supporters, to Boston to open up second base for Robinson (and first base for Gil Hodges, who had to get out of Roy Campanella's spot). Stanky helped win the 1948 pennant for the Boston Braves. The filmmakers decided to end on clinching the NL pennant, savoring the up note rather than waiting for the Yankees to beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Robinson and Rickey got the publicity, and you can't begrudge them that, but Bill Veeck broke the AL color line later that same year with Larry Doby, who struggled as a pinch hitter to a .156 batting average. But in 1948, Doby outhit Robinson (.301 to .296) and it was Cleveland in the World Series, beating the Braves, with Satchel Paige a late addition, pitching 6-1 down the stretch. Rickey proved that a meticiulously selected, carefully groomed black man at the peak of his physical prowess could play at a high level in the major league. Veeck proved that an untried rookie and a 42-year-old who had been derided as "not good enough" for two decades could win pennants. The dam broke after that, and nowadays one wonders whether the all-white days before 1947 -- Cobb and Ruth and Matthewson and Grove notwithstanding -- should even be considered major league. Integration was the best thing that ever happened to baseball: made me a fan, at least until the 1994-95 lockout turned me off.

PS: Sad to find out that Tygiel died in 2008, only 59 years old.


David Arnay: 8 (2013, Studio N): Pianist, has a couple previous albums. The concept here is to start with a solo piece (a very jaunty "Caravan"), then for each additional piece add one instrument: the duo picks up bass, trio drums, quartet Doug Webb's tenor sax, and so on until you get to the octet at the end. Six originals -- the other cover is "Giant Steps." B+(*)

Diego Barber/Hugo Cipres: 411 (2013, Origin): Barber is a guitarist from Spain, has a couple previous albums, none like this, which is elegant jazztronica driven off Cipres' "desktop" synths. Seamus Blake plays tenor sax (and EWI) for extra lift, Johannes Weidenmueller fattens the bottom, and Ari Hoenig adds some conventional drums. B+(***)

Kenny Blake featuring Maria Shaheen: Go Where the Road Leads (2012 [2013], Summit): Search algorithm woes: an AMG search for "kenny blake" amusingly offered Kenny Chesney and Blake Shelton as 2nd and 3rd choices; more perplexing is Tim McGraw in the 1st slot, although I suppose you could consider him the least common denominator between Chesney and Shelton. The pop saxophonist came in 9th, after the Beach Boys and a phalanx of bad Kennys -- Rogers, Loggins, G, Wayne Shepherd. Sixth album since 1991, first with (or for) singer Shaheen. Most of the songs are originals by producer Peter Morley. Covers include Porter and Jobim: the latter goes far beyond "obligatory" to be one of the album's highlights. Contrary to standard practice, Baker tends to lead the singer's lines, justifying the credit order, but Shaheen is a fine singer. B+(*)

Joe Burgstaller: License to Thrill (2012 [2013], Summit): Trumpet player, b. 1970, played in Canadian Brass, Meridian Arts Ensemble, and NY Brass Arts Trio; teaches at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA. Has two previous albums of classical music: Mozart and Bach. Starts solo here with an original piece, adds one or two instruments (usually piano) for the rest: Vivaldi, Bach, Gershwin, Corea, Fritz Kreisler, Jennifer Higdon, Piazzolla, trad, a "world premier recording" of a piece by Su Lian Tan. Wouldn't call any of it thrilling -- stately, picturesque, pretty in very conventional ways. B+(*)

Marc Cary: For the Love of Abbey (2012 [2013], Motéma): Pianist, b. 1967, has ten albums since 1995. This one is solo, focusing on songs by Abbey Lincoln -- Cary played with her on two 1997-98 albums -- plus one Ellington cover and two originals. B+(*)

Etienne Charles: Creole Soul (2013, Culture Shock Music): Trumpet player, from Trinidad, moved to Florida then New York to study (Florida State and Juilliard), teaches at Michigan State. Second album. Band includes alto and tenor sax, piano, bass, drums, with guest vocals and percussion. Tries to mix it all up, but neither explodes nor coheres. B [advance]

Liz Childs Quartet: Take Flight (2009 [2011], self-released): Standards singer, second album -- one original here, co-credited with guitarist Ed MacEachen, plus sixteen covers for a total of 77:14, including the usual suspects, Bessie Smith, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and two Jobims. Voice suggests a Diana Krall wannabe. Band is a guitar-bass-drums trio, with MacEachen a quality foil, keeping it light but adding something tasty. B+(*)

Corey Christiansen: Lone Prairie (2012 [2013], Origin): Guitarist, fourth album since 2004; group includes keybs/piano (Steve Allee and/or Zach Lapidus, the latter also credited with SuperCollider), bass, drums, percussion. Songs have a western flare, with three originals, one each from Marty Robbins and Ennio Morricone, and six credited as "Traditional" -- e.g., "Red River Valley," "Sittin' on Top of the World." Notes say recording date was August 30-31, 2013 -- clearly a typo, but one that will become less obvious over time. B+(*)

Trilok Gurtu: Spellbound (2012 [2013], Moosicus/Sunnyside): Percussionist, b. 1951 in old Bombay, India; has a couple dozen albums since 1984. Early on he toured with Don Cherry, and this is something of a tribute, framed with tape bits of Cherry from the 1970s, and featuring a long list of trumpet players who wanted to get in on it: Ambrose Akinmusire, Paolo Fresu, Hasan Gozetlik, Matthias Hofs, Ibrahim Maalof, Nils Petter Molvaer, and Matthias Schriefl. Mostly Gurtu originals, but covers include one by Cherry, Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," and several Miles Davis pieces, hinting at a spacey world fusion. B+(**)

Molly Holm: Permission (2012 [2013], Rinny Zin): Singer, San Francisco area, studied North Indian Raga and was a member of Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra. First album, half originals, covers include "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Afro Blue," "Straight No Chaser," things from Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul. Band includes Larry Schneider on soprano sax and Famoudou Don Moye on drums, and guests pop in and out. Likes to scat, has a bit of Sheila Jordan in her delivery, but interesting as all that is this didn't quite come together. B+(*)

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Somewhere (2009 [2013], ECM): He's 68 now, and his label keeps shipping out new product every year, but since he turned 65 or so the recording dates have started to creep back -- the new product more likely to come out of old tapes than new. Critics tend to fall into two camps: some savor every scrap served up, and some have started to wonder whether we have enough of the more/less same thing by now. His "standards trio" with Peacock and DeJohnette dates back to 1983, a couple dozen albums by now, and for someone who isn't a piano fanatic, they do tend to all blur together: impressive, admirable even, but how much do you need? Still, every once in a while they make you pause and appreciate just how extraordinary this group is. Last time for me was My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux, a 2001 tape released as a double in 2007, but this is another one on that special level, recorded live at KKL Luzern Concert Hall in 2009. A-

Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope: Mirage (2012 [2013], Blueland): Started as a baritone saxophonist, on his fourth album (since 2003) has expanded to include the whole deep end of the reed family: bass clarinet, bass flute, bass sax, contra alto clarinet. Features a string quartet conducted by Ryan Truesdell, plus guitar, keybs, bass, and drums -- all name players (Nir Felder, Frank Carlberg, Lonnie Plaxico, Rudy Royston). A complex concoction, all soft edges with fuzzy splotches. B+(**)

Monday Michiru: Soulception (2012, Adventure Music): Singer, from Japan, AMG lists 23 albums since 1994, pegging her genre as "Electronic" and styles as "Acid Jazz, Club/Dance, Trip-Hop." She is backed by jazz musicians here, including Alex Sipiagin (trumpet) and Adam Rogers (guitar). Indeed, she should know her way around jazz, given that an early album was called Jazz Brat -- an especially good title if your parents are Toshiko Akiyoshi and Charlie Mariano. Having trouble sorting this out, although she has promising moments -- but then the title is a muddle, too. B

PJ Rasmussen: Adventures in Flight (2013, Third Freedom Music): Guitarist, b. 1990, wrote all of his own material, leads a postbop sextet (tenor sax, trumpet, piano, bass, drums), the guitar adding a nice sweetness to music that goes through all of the motions. B+(*)

Rose & the Nightingale: Spirit of the Garden (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Leader here is cellist Jody Redhage, the composer of all but one tune and four group improvs. Song-oriented, the two singers are Leala Cyr (also trumpet) and Laila Biali (also piano) -- Redhage also has a voice credit, but listed after cello, whereas Cyr and Biali are credited with voice first -- with Sara Caswell (violin, mandolin) completing the group, except when guests Alan Ferber (trombone, 2 cuts) or Ben Wittman (percussion, 5 cuts) drop in. B+(*)

The Rosenthals: Fly Away (2013, American Melody): Phil Rosenthal plays banjo and sings, as he had with the bluegrass band Seldom Scene (1976-86). Daniel Rosenthal is Phil's son. He plays trumpet, notably in jazz big band Either/Orchestra. Phil is a pretty deadpan singer and he doesn't take any chances with his standard fare -- at most a little yodel, but the trumpet is a nice touch. B+(*)

Nick Sanders Trio: Nameless Neighbors (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, raised in New Orleans, based in New York; first album, a trio with Henry Fraser on bass and Connor Baker on drums, produced by Fred Hersch. The one thing that jumps out is the rumble on "Motor World" -- makes me wonder if his more delicate work has more going on than initially meets the ear. B+(*)

Benjamin Taubkin + Adriano Adewale: The Vortex Sessions (2010 [2013], Adventure Music): Adewale is a percussionist, b. in Sao Paulo, Brazil; moved to UK in 2000; has an album under his own named group, another group called Sambura. Taubkin is a pianist, also from Brazil, with close to a dozen albums since 1998. These duets were recorded in London at Vortex Jazz Club. B+(*)

Joan Watson-Jones/Frank Wilkins: Quiet Conversations: A Duet (2012, Eye of Samantha): Standards singer, third album since 1998, accompanied by piano, nice and intimate. She did write two originals, buried near the end. Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately" is an inspired pick; Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" isn't. B+(*)

Frank Wess: Magic 101 (2011 [2013], IPO): Tenor saxophonist -- also perhaps the most celebrated of all jazz flautists, but none of that here (other than a picture on the inside cover -- b. 1922 so he cut this just shy of 90, came up with Billy Eckstine and Lucky Millinder in the 1940s, was a key member of Count Basie's 1953-64 orchestra, probably cut his best albums in 1989-93 (Dear Mr. Basie, Entre Nous, Tryin' to Make My Blues Turn Green). Quartet: Kenny Barron (piano), Kenny Davis (bass), Winard Harper (drums). Seven standards: Monk, Ellington, "Come Rain or Come Shine," "The Very Thought of You." Slight but lovely. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Meteo (Clean Feed)
  • Lotte Anker/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani Faustino: Birthmark (Clean Feed)
  • Robin Bessier: Other Side of Forever (self-released)
  • Blue Cranes: Swim (Cuneiform)
  • Larry Corban: The Circle Starts Here (Nabroc)
  • Dave Damiani: Watch What Happens (Hard Knocks)
  • Jon Davis: One Up Front (Posi-Tone)
  • Harris Eisenstadt September Trio: The Destructive Element (Clean Feed)
  • Ellery Eskelin/Susan Alcorn/Michael Formanek: Mirage (Clean Feed)
  • Drew Gress: The Sky Inside (Pirouet)
  • Michael Hackett Quintet: New Point of View (Summit)
  • Gregg Kallor: A Single Noon (Single Noon)
  • Kikoski Carpenter Novak Sheppard: From the Hip (BFM Jazz)
  • Lama + Chris Speed: Lamaçal (Clean Feed)
  • Dave Liebman/Michael Stephans: Lineage (Whaling City Sound)
  • Steve Lindeman: The Day After Yesterday (Jazz Hang)
  • Made to Break: Provoke (Clean Feed)
  • Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Electro Acoustic Ensemble: The Space Between (Delmark)
  • Eric Revis: City of Asylum (Clean Feed)
  • Frank Rosaly: Cicada Music (Delmark)
  • Daniel Rosenboom: Daniel Rosenboom's Book of Omens (Nine Winds)
  • Sasha's Bloc: Melancholy (self-released)
  • Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temple II (Asthmatic Kitty): advance, July 16
  • Deborah Shulman & the Ted Howe Trio: Get Your Kicks: The Music & Lyrics of Bobby Troup (Summit)
  • Zoot Sims: Compatibility (1955, Delmark)
  • Steve Swallow Quintet: Into the Woodwork (ECM): advance, July 16
  • The Michael Treni Big Band: Pop-Culture Blues (self-released)
  • Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee: Human Encore (Clean Feed)
  • Rick VanMatre: Lines Above (Summit)
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin (Patois)

Purchases:

  • Deerhunter: Monomania (4AD)
  • Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold (What's Your Rupture?)
  • The Uncluded: Hokey Fright (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  • Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (XL)

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Expert Comments

Brad Sroka called for a list of "ten favorite jazz performers, ranked if you can." First few results tabulated (Best, Cobeen, Magarian, Morton, Patterson, Smallwood, Smith, Sroka, Weber+, Withrow, Yanosik; JeffC, Semi Mike, Sharpsm, Tigster326; after my post: Christgau, Gubbels+, Harmon, Hull, Monsen, Teta; after second post: Chuck B105, Dial+, Lunday, Lurker No Longer+, Walker, Stan P, Sroka's Facebook lists) [30 total]; disqualified Mongo Vauche for voting for Candy Dulfer three times:

 25  Miles Davis
 24  Louis Armstrong
 23  John Coltrane
 21  Thelonious Monk
 20  Sonny Rollins
 19  Duke Ellington
 17  Ornette Coleman
 16  Billie Holiday
 12  Charlie Parker
 11  Ella Fitzgerald
 11  Coleman Hawkins
  9  Lester Young
  9  Charles Mingus
  6  David Murray
  5  Count Basie
  5  Eric Dolphy
  4  Art Pepper
  4  Sonny Sharrock
  3  Art Blakey
  3  Joe Henderson
  3  Don Pullen (incl. George Adams/Don Pullen)
  3  Cecil Taylor
  2  Dave Brubeck
  2  Dizzy Gillespie
  2  Grant Green
  2  Herbie Hancock
  2  Johnny Hodges
  2  Vijay Iyer (+ Fieldwork)
  2  John McLaughlin
  2  William Parker
  2  Max Roach
  2  Sun Ra
  2  Henry Threadgill (Air)
  2  James "Blood" Ulmer
  2  Ben Webster
  1  Cannonball Adderley
  1  Fred Anderson
  1  Art Ensemble of Chicago
  1  Atomic
  1  Chet Baker
  1  Sidney Bechet
  1  Han Bennink
  1  Arthur Blythe
  1  Clifford Brown
  1  Jaki Byard
  1  James Carter
  1  Paul Desmond
  1  Harris Eisenstadt
  1  Roy Eldridge
  1  Bill Evans
  1  Tommy Flanagan
  1  Stan Getz
  1  Benny Goodman
  1  Dexter Gordon
  1  Charlie Haden
  1  Andrew Hill
  1  Earl Hines
  2  Keith Jarrett
  1  Gene Krupa
  1  Abbey Lincoln
  1  Frank Lowe
  1  Tony Malaby
  1  Branford Marsalis
  1  Wynton Marsalis (actually, just Marsalis)
  1  Jackie McLean
  1  Hank Mobley
  1  Nils Petter Molvaer
  1  Jason Moran
  2  Lee Morgan
  1  Jelly Roll Morton
  1  Gerry Mulligan
  1  Bud Powell
  1  Django Reinhardt
  1  Buddy Rich
  1  Jimmy Rushing
  1  Artie Shaw
  1  Matthew Shipp
  1  Horace Silver
  1  Wayne Shorter
  1  Art Tatum
  1  Jack Teagarden
  1  Ken Vandermark
  1  Sarah Vaughan
  1  David S. Ware

Hard for me to keep this short, but it does help that "favorites" are more arbitrary than "best":

  1. Coleman Hawkins
  2. Duke Ellington
  3. Louis Armstrong
  4. Johnny Hodges
  5. Ornette Coleman
  6. Lester Young
  7. Art Pepper
  8. Earl Hines
  9. Jimmy Rushing
  10. Charles Mingus

Twenty-one more names nobody's mentioned thus far:

  • Sidney Bechet
  • Don Byas
  • Benny Carter
  • Nat Cole
  • Roy Eldridge
  • Stan Getz
  • Dizzy Gillespie
  • Sheila Jordan
  • Roland Kirk
  • Lee Konitz
  • Steve Lacy
  • Jackie McLean
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • Oscar Peterson
  • Bud Powell
  • Horace Silver
  • Zoot Sims
  • Art Tatum
  • Mal Waldron
  • Fats Waller
  • Ben Webster

As votes came in, I later wrote:

I've kept a running total in my notebook (no weighting, and I counted some extra mentions beyond top 10, but not mine). Only person to crack the top ten who wasn't in Bob's nine: Duke Ellington (tied for 5th with Holiday and Rollins). Only one on Bob's list not in top nine: Charlie Parker (10th, one mention ahead of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young). Pops is tops with 18 of 21 ballots, followed by Miles (17), Coltrane and Monk (16 each). Results strike me as much more densely clustered than you'd get by polling jazz critics -- e.g., I only had 3 of the top ten, with no disrespect to the others (well, aside from Bird).

Totally forgot Benny Goodman when I knocked out my list of 21 extras -- he was much better than you probably realize, but you need to dig into his small groups to hear that. Used to be the "king of jazz," but now he's become TDWR. Several of my 21 have subsequently been mentioned, but still conspicuously underappreciated is Dizzy Gillespie. Also someone who barely missed my 21: Bill Evans.

Replying to Bradley Sroka, who wrote: "Tom: I'm surprise you didn't include any of your favorite more-contemporary players on your ballot, such as William Parker. Could you comment on that?"

That's just where my heart is, what I play for sheer pleasure. I've listened to a lot of bebop, postbop, avant-garde, and so forth; I know my way around there, and I appreciate it well enough, but for me at least, real jazz peaked in the swing era -- Hawkins and Hodges are peerless. Most of the newer stuff that's worthwhile is avant, and I report on it pretty thoroughly, but I also follow all sorts of retro tastes -- that's why folks like Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen regularly hit my sweet spot.

I've written a lot about Parker, and he's easily the greatest bassist of all time, but I wound up listing Mingus instead, who's less avant but a whole lot crazier, a guy who started with Kid Ory and has managed to distill everything I love about jazz. Hard to put David Murray on the list when I skipped Sonny Rollins -- I have no real excuse there other than that I wanted to mention some other names. Earl Hines, for instance: I could have gone for Art Tatum or Cecil Taylor, and I've written quite a bit lately about Marilyn Crispell and Irene Schweizer, but none of those come close to the Fatha's joyful groove. Nobody's made more great albums than Miles Davis, but I left him off the list too: I probably would have picked Dizzy Gillespie ahead of him, or maybe Roy Eldridge -- you get a thrill on those high notes that Davis has never known -- but that makes it all the harder to go for Leo Smith or Dave Douglas.

On Benny Goodman, some of his small group sessions have since been repackaged under Charlie Christian's name, and nobody knows Teddy Wilson any more since many of his best records are now peddled under his chick singer's name, but do look out for his 1954 postbop BG in Hi-Fi -- really an outstanding clarinet player.


May 2013 Jul 2013